Between Art & Music

As Jazz Ascona celebrates its 40th anniversary, the arts and culture scene has never been more vibrant. Is this a return to the glorious 20s?

Strolling through the historic old town of Ascona, everything speaks of art and music: you can breathe in the legacy, still alive in these streets today, of artists such as Jawlensky, Kandinsky, Walter Gropius, Ida Hoffmann, Max Ettinger and so on, up to today’s stars of the annual classical music and jazz events. This year, JazzAscona celebrates an important milestone – its 40th anniversary – with renewed energy, having emerged unscathed by the limits imposed by Covid. «We are seeing – explains JazzAscona’s president Guido Casparis – a return to its roots, having brought back free admission since 2020, just as it was 20 years ago in 1984. This brought about an increase in attendance and a more varied public, much to the satisfaction of local shop owners and hotels, who were able to redress the financial losses they underwent during the pandemic». Thanks largely to support from the municipality and the Locarnese Tourist Office (OTLMV), the event is once again financially stable. «But it’s not just about financial considerations – points out Casparis – there has been real cultural excitement around JazzAscona since we twinned the Ascona event with New Orleans, a city keen to promote its own culture in the realms of art, sport and even cuisine». To reflect this all-embracing artistic flow, an open air exhibition will run from the end of March, with the facades of buildings all over the town festooned with giant posters of artists who defined the forty years of JazzAscona.

The «Lupa» of Ascona: Artistic Icon and Prime Mover of Cultural Revival.

Music in Ascona has many other dimensions: it’s not uncommon when out and about in the borgo to bump into an eccentric artistic figure donning brightly coloured clothing and hats: she is the singer and actress «La Lupa», back in the day Maryli Maura Herz-Marconi, who was born in Onsernone and became a leading figure in the culture (and counterculture) of the theatrical scene in Zurich. La Lupa reconnects with her admirers in Ascona, a place she is attracted to because «it is the point of connection between the southern Prealps and the Mediterranean. Up until the 1950s, this place was teeming with artists and now things are on the move again, which is interesting to my friends in Zurich and beyond». Evidence of this is to be found amongst the efforts of individual citizens, small local «antennae» who share aesthetic values, like Christopher Schoop, owner of the Sacchetti gallery, which in late March became the «Ascona Centre for Art and Culture (CCAA)». Schoop, a real estate developer, lives between Ascona and other Swiss cities and he is always on the move, pursuing his passion to restore Ascona’s creative past: «We took over this gallery – I was one of its first clients – with a project to expand its objectives and transform it into a centre for cultural production». It will host art shows, concerts, conferences and performances, making use of the garden and the bistro opposite, which features a monumental wooden table from Einsiedeln. The place is full of character, a perfect stage for artists. «We want to involve more young people – adds Schoop – and we’ve bought a sawmill at Ponte Brolla where we will create rooms and ateliers for young artists to stay». La Lupa, a friend of the couple and champion of their cause, has inspired ideas about the initiative: «We should involve art schools and offer their best students the chance to come and stay here, perhaps on a scholarship basis, pulling them away from the dictator that is the screen. They can rediscover painting, sculpture, poetry, writing, all of which are under threat from the might of the digital world».

Enthusiasm for Ascona’s
artistic renaissance.

Simona Pelloni, who lives in the centre and runs a B&B there, is another fan of Ascona’s artistic draw and she relishes the renewed buzz: «It’s as if Ascona had experienced a downward turn over the past years, a trend reversed with the arrival of Covid, which, paradoxically, was also when we were inundated with (mostly Swiss) tourists and the town was able to reassert its wide-ranging strengths». Aside from jazz, there is more on offer: «Alongside an event of this magnitude, it’s good to see the emergence of other art forms which involve the public in the wider context». «In fact, many visitors come back to Ascona – concludes Schoop – because they have happy memories from their childhood days with their families here in the beautiful borgo». This group of «artists» – each engaging in their own way – has one mission in common, that of seeing Ascona flourish and projecting it into the new century.