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The New Patrons allows citizens who want to improve their living environment, change a situation or transmit the values that drive them, to associate an artist with their concerns by commissioning an art project. 

The New Patrons is a non-profit association created in 2014 and its action extends over the Swiss territory. It has two mediators who accompany groups of citizens in their project commissions. We offer logistical and financial support, as well as expertise in choosing the artist who will best meet the challenges of the commission formulated by the citizens. The results are as varied in terms of artistic forms (visual arts, music, theater, film, performance...) as the intentions that gave rise to them.

Our action is part of an international network. Born in France thirty years ago, the New Patrons initiative has more than 400 commissions throughout Europe, from capital cities to the most rural regions of Germany, Belgium, Spain and Italy. By following an established and proven working protocol that guarantees the freedom and respect of all parties involved, we accompany the "commissioners" to act for the whole of their community, with the aim of placing artistic creation in a renewed democratic perspective.

The protocol

The New Patrons make use of an original participatory protocol which guarantees the successful generation of quality artistic projects. Invented by artist François Hers more than 30 years ago, the protocol establishes a new division of responsibilities among citizens, artists, and cultural professionals, based on collective action, and thereby contributes to the education of generations of people committed to the common good.

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“This protocol offers, to any person from civil society wishing to do so, without exception and in any place whatever, either alone or in association with others, the means to assume the responsibility of commissioning an artwork from an artist. As a patron, it is henceforth this person’s responsibility to understand and to articulate a reason for the artwork’s existence, and for the collective investment in artistic creation.

It invites artists to invent forms which could respond, in their infinite diversity, to the demands of a given society, and hence to accept a division of roles which turns artistic creation from a solely private responsibility into a collective one.

It invites the mediators to establish links between the works and the public, and to do likewise between the people involved: the artist, the patron, and, moreover, between all the social actors who may be concerned. The mediator organises their cooperation. He/she provides the knowledge necessary for an appropriate choice of medium and artist, as well as the skills which will ensure the successful accomplishment of an artwork that respects the rigours of both the commissioning process and artistic creation.

It invites elected representatives, benefactors, and those responsible for public or private institutions to commit to contributing to a “democracy of initiative”, as well as to politically mediating the work’s inscription within the community for which it is destined. They can likewise take personal responsibility for a commission that meets a collective need.

It invites researchers from different disciplines to support the recognition of art as something necessary, to put the action undertaken into perspective, and to help to ground it in an understanding of contexts and issues which can be more widely shared.

In committing to an equal sharing of responsibilities, all the stakeholders agree to use negotiation to manage the tensions and conflicts inherent to public life within a democracy. The artwork, now itself an agent in public life, is no longer just the emblematic expression of a single individual, but of a group of people who have resolved to constitute a society by giving a shared meaning to contemporary artistic creation.

Financed by private and public funds, the work becomes collective property; its value is no longer commercial, but is now that of its collective use and the symbolic value the collective confers on that use."

François Hers, 1990

The patrons

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Part of the group of patrons from the association Bolivia-9, accompanied by the mediator and the artist duo, 2018

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The patrons of Bains des Pâquis, in Geneva, receive the building permit, 2022

Anyone can become a patron, regardless of their social and cultural background. No special knowledge of art is necessary. Most of the time, it all begins with questions: what do we find important? What needs to change in our environment? What could improve our circumstances? What are the values and shared passions that bring us together?

All sorts of ideas have led to commissions in Switzerland and Europe: whether it be a group of nurses who want to set up a place of worship in a hospital, residents of a neighbourhood who need a shared space for socialising, immigrants reflecting on how to pass on their culture to their children, teenagers wanting to honour the memory of a friend who died in a road accident, or a village trying to enhance its architectural heritage.

The patrons form a group of three to twenty people who commit to thinking through and defining their shared concerns. They are helped by a mediator, and together they draft a set of specifications that clarify their aims and set out a framework for the project. They then liaise with the artist during the development phase of the project, and help to establish a funding plan for the production—for example, by drawing on their local network, or by suggesting institutions that might provide support. With the mediator and the partners, the patrons organise the inauguration of the artistic project. Once the project is complete, the patrons often remain connected to it, serving as ambassadors of sorts for the work.

From the initial idea, to the concrete elaboration, to the financing and production phases, completing a commission can take several years. The degree to which the patrons are involved in this process often leads them to see themselves as the co-authors of the work. Their understanding of artistic creation has completely changed: it has become a means, a requirement for taking action in the public sphere.

«The New Patrons is an exciting idea: instead of institutional commissions from official bodies, it involves art commissions arising from collective initiatives. Projects develop thanks to a dialogue between an initial request, particular abilities, aptitudes and tastes, and the artist‘s own personality. I feel that it represents a definition of artistic endeavour that is different from that of the lone artist with an entirely personal creative approach, somewhat cut off from the world at large. It entails giving something a collective meaning, and that‘s really fascinating. The pitfalls and difficulties are easy to see: We had to step up and embrace the idea that we could speak to an artist, that we had things to say to him, and that our words were of value. And the artist had to accept this dialogue with people whose sensitivity and culture were different from his own. The experience takes away the sacred aura of art, and that’s essential. In terms of democracy, it also means getting rid of a form of cultural class struggle: art for some, but inaccessible to others for whom nobody speaks.»

Jean-Louis Bornier
Patron of Blessey, France

The artist

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Artist Lili Reynaud Dewar accompanied by musician Nicolas Murer, at a meeting with the patrons of the Collège Sainte-Croix, Fribourg, 2022.

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Swiss artist Grégory Chapuisat inside the monumental work created for the patrons of Parc du Buis, Nyon, 2021

What distinguishes the New Patrons approach is the fact that a community meets and closely collaborates with a single creator (in some cases, a duo or a collective). As each commission is unique, it is important to identify the artist who is most suited to the site or the circumstances. Finding the artist is part of the mediator’s task.

Artists with the most varied practices, often internationally renowned, have taken part in Nouveaux Commanditaires projects in Switzerland and Europe: John Armleder, Shigeru Ban, Kerstin Brätsch, Angela Bulloch, Matali Crasset, Harun Farocki, Sylvie Fleury, Yona Friedman, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Tadashi Kawamata, Lang/Baumann, Bertrand Lavier, Olivier Mosset, Yan-Pei Ming, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Laure Prouvost, Rimini Protokoll, Raumlabor, Martha Rosler, Ugo Rondinone, Sasha Waltz, Christopher Wool, Rémi Zaugg/Herzog-De Meuron, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, the Chapuisat brothers, etc.

The work that the artist is to accomplish for the commission can consist in redefining or giving a new identity to a place or to a site; improving a set of living conditions; facilitating intergenerational transmission and exchange; providing a form for new rituals; renewing an age-old tradition in a contemporary manner; paying homage to persons or events, sometimes with the intention to make amends for historical injustices, etc. The form taken by the work is open. It could be a sculpture, an artistic installation, a building, a park, a piece of music, a play, a film, a book... Likewise, the work can be permanent or ephemeral, depending on the context.

The artist is an active partner, striving to understand the broader history behind the commission. He/she interprets the specifications and engages in a detailed and ongoing dialogue with the patrons. He/she often approaches the patrons’ wishes from an angle that no one had considered. The “imaginative leap” that he/she proposes in response to the topic confers a kind of expertise on the artist, and a new social legitimacy. The experience of the commission influences the artist’s creative process and the form taken by their artistic approach. It has an impact on the artist’s way of thinking about the place of art in society.

The mediator

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Charlotte Laubard, mediator for French-speaking Switzerland

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Yasmin Afschar, mediator for German-speaking Switzerland

The mediators are recognised experts in the cultural world. Their involvement in New Patrons enables them to address social issues and to think about the relation between citizens and artists in a new way.

The mediator accompanies the patrons through all of the steps involved in the commission. Rather than having readymade responses or turning up with a detailed plan, he/she helps the patrons to formulate a set of specifications for their project. The mediator likewise makes sure that all of the necessary conditions are in place for the commission’s being in the public interest.

The mediator then proposes an artist whose approach resonates with the nature of the commission. He/she organises the meetings between the artist and the patrons. When the artist presents a project outline, the mediator checks that the discussion with the patrons is focussed on the work’s capacity to respond to the context, and not on considerations of personal aesthetic taste. The mediator ensures that the project meets the patrons’ expectations, and that it is artistically original and ambitious.

The mediator presents the project to the partners and organises the search for funding. He/she provides support during the production of the artistic project and takes care of legal matters. Finally, he/she is involved in promoting the project to the media, the local community and municipal authorities.

The partners


Inauguration of artwork by Frères Chapuisat in Nyon with the actors and partners of the project, 2021. © Michel Perret

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Inauguration of Emmanuelle Lainé artwork in EMS Le Nouveau Prieuré, Chêne-Bougeries, with the actors and partners of the project, 2022. 

The partners support the citizens, artists and mediators in their collaboration, and make the production of ambitious artistic projects possible. Local businesses, technicians, craftspersons, production agencies, engineers, architects, private foundations and state institutions—many different stakeholders contribute to the completion of a commissioned work.

The New Patrons actively seek out new partners at both the local and the national levels. In responding to social or regional development issues, an artistic commission achieves concrete change, and contributes to the improvement of a social situation. No longer the outcome of a decision made by a committee of experts, but rather of a citizens’ initiative, artistic creation acquires a new social legitimacy. The New Patrons approach is especially pertinent in rural zones, where cultural and financial resources can be less abundant than in cities.

Certain municipalities, wishing to alter their approach to artistic commissions, take advantage of a budget provided by percentage for art schemes in order to arrange a commission with the New Patrons. For municipalities or local organisations that support the commissioning process, taking a participatory approach lends the artistic project greater legitimacy. By delegating the commissioning process to a group of citizens, they agree to employ a new way of sharing responsibilities and strengthen democratic mechanisms.

In 1991, Fondation de France became the first European foundation to support the New Patrons programme and to promote its ideas. The French Ministry of Culture took up the torch in 2022. In Germany, the programme is supported by the Federal Agency for Civic Education, the German Federal Cultural Foundation, as well as the Körber-Stiftung and the Goethe-Institut. In Switzerland, the New Patrons began receiving support for its development from the Stiftung Mercator in 2022, as well as from public institutions and private foundations in the case of particular commissions.