The original language of the interview is: German

Mr Isler, you are the Managing Director of the Dr Stephan à Porta Foundation. Who was Dr Stephan à Porta?

Stephan à Porta was born in Danzig on 24 April 1868. His parents, confectioners from the Lower Engadine, had moved abroad and achieved a certain prosperity there. Stephan à Porta became a lawyer and opened his own law firm in Zurich at a young age. Spurred on by the building boom, he and his brother bought a building plot in Zurich-Aussersihl in 1892 and had three houses built on it, which he sold at a profit. Until the Second World War, Stephan à Porta built several hundred houses in the city of Zurich. After the outbreak of the war, he decided to put most of his private assets - 144 houses with around 1300 flats - into a foundation.

What are the purposes of the Foundation?

In the foundation deed of 19 May 1945, which was entered in the commercial register on 15 November 1945, the purpose of the foundation is defined as follows: "The purpose of the foundation is to donate the proceeds of the foundation's assets to charitable and non-profit institutions in Zurich (75%) and in the canton of Graubünden (25%)". The focus was and still is on institutions for people on the fringes of society. In the statutes, Stephan à Porta also decreed that the flat rents were to be set at a level that was still advantageous compared to comparable flats in the city of Zurich.

What criteria do you use to select the projects that come to you?

Donations are made exclusively to tax-exempt, charitable non-profit institutions, e.g. associations or foundations, in the city of Zurich and the canton of Graubünden that help people and contribute to improving their quality of life. These can be, for example, socially and/or health disadvantaged people, people with impairments, people with addiction problems, the elderly, asylum seekers, migrants. Support for institutions with cultural objectives or private individuals is not envisaged. Support is primarily given to projects that go beyond the usual financial scope of the applicant and are of an exceptional nature. Contributions to cover operating deficits, on the other hand, are granted only exceptionally and on a one-off basis in justified cases.

What advice would you give to an applicant who wants to work with your foundation?

If the majority of the projects benefit residents of the city of Zurich or the canton of Graubünden, and if they meet the Foundation's purpose, the chances of support are very good. In this case, we gladly expect a short, concise portrait of the applying institution and a transparent presentation of the project and the people who will benefit from it. The Dr. Stephan à Porta Foundation attaches great importance to ensuring that the donation really reaches the people in need and sustainably improves their current situation and/or their future prospects. As a matter of principle, we attach great importance to longer-term, larger projects being financially broadly supported so that no dependence on a single foundation arises. This must also be documented.

You are also on the Board of Trustees of the Fondation ZHdK, the Foundation of the Zurich University of the Arts. What is the purpose of the foundation?

The Fondation ZHdK specifically supports promising talents among the students from all artistic and design disciplines at the ZHdK, i.e. music, design, fine arts, film, dance, theatre, art education and transdisciplinarity. Funding is also provided for projects that are of great importance for the development of the ZHdK. With the Excellence Scholarship, the Fondation ZHdK supports outstanding students in financing their Master's studies at the Zurich University of the Arts. As substantial support, this scholarship helps the greatest talents to concentrate fully on their studies and to develop their potential to the full.
The Corona Solidarity Fund also supports ZHdK students who find themselves in existential need due to the effects of the Corona crisis.

What particularly appeals to you in your function as a foundation board member?

I became interested in music and theatre as early as my secondary school years and attended concerts and performances in various theatres. Professionally, I took a completely different path. But the fascination for the arts and also the visual arts has remained. On the Foundation Board, I have the opportunity to contribute all my experience to the students of the arts, together with like-minded colleagues.
My great sympathy belongs to the ZHdK and the Toni-Areal, as I was intensively involved in the transformation of the area from a milk factory to a university campus in my former position at the Zürcher Kantonalbank.

Finally: Let's talk about patronage: What challenges and opportunities do you personally see for patrons who want to sustainably support art and culture in Zurich?

The financial circumstances of foundations and patrons vary greatly. In general, however, I believe that there are sufficient funds available for the sustainable promotion of art and culture. The cultural and art scene today is characterised by great diversity. More outstanding talents are constantly being trained and promoted at the universities. Projects and opportunities for support are therefore numerous. However, it is important to have a clear strategy as to what exactly should be supported and to what extent. Otherwise, the "agony of choice" is endless.

The interview was conducted by Dr Dr Elisa Bortoluzzi Dubach. She is a foundation and sponsoring consultant, author and lecturer(

Posted in Grantmaking Foundations

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