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A Participation Decree creates a new policy framework and allocates additional resources to facilitate access to culture. It is aimed at people living in poverty, disabled persons, prisoners, families with children, individuals from different cultural backgrounds, etc.

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Belgium/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.8 Social cohesion and cultural policies

Flemish Community

Developing "community spirit" is a major thread in the culturalpolicy document 2009-2014. An important link is made between this aspiration and the pursuit of an intercultural society (see chapter 4.2.7).

Another major link has been made to the field of "socio-artistic practice", which has become a specific point of attention in several Flemish decrees for the arts and heritage. In this context, "socio-artistic work" is conceptualised as process-like-activities which focus both on the artistic aspect and the involvement of the participants. Up until a couple of years ago, the contribution of the government was limited to the financing of projects through a special regulation. Since 2006, sector subsidies have been replaced by transversal support and financing, running through local government cultural policies, the Arts Decree and the Heritage sector.

Socio-artistic practice offers possibilities for the reinforcement of city and communal patterns of cohabitation. Through the support of the Flemish government, local authorities that are working with a cultural policy plan have provided additional subsidies for such activities.

There are several types of support within the framework of the Arts Decree (2004, amended 2008). Artistic organisations can either opt to take on socio-artistic activities as a major element in their overall activities, and calculate this in their subsidy request, or they can file for an additional project subsidy. Apart from this, organisations specifically targeted towards socio-artistic activities can receive structural subsidies as specified in the Arts Decree for a period of 2 or 4 years.

A Participation Decree entered into force in January 2008. It provides a policy framework for explicit participation initiatives to facilitate access to culture, aimed at:

  • people in poverty;
  • prisoners;
  • disabled people;
  • people with an ethnic-cultural diversified background; and
  • families with children.

This Decree offers:

  • policy instruments to stimulate the participation of the various groups;
  • subsidies for projects that encourage participation. This particularly concerns initiatives related to socio-cultural work, communication, circulation and dissemination of artworks, financial obstacles, and physical access. Longitudinal scientific research on cultural participation is also important for the policy; and
  • grants for large scale cultural events.

The organisation DÄ“mos is a knowledge centre active in the Participation Decree. It wasfounded as "Kunst en Democratie" (Art and Democracy) in the beginning of the 1990s – is a knowledge centre paying attention to social topics such as the battle against extremism, racism and discrimination, the role of art in situations of exclusion and the responsibility of artists in our democracy. Their focus is on renewing and deepening the participation of disadvantaged groups in culture, youth and sport.

The Participation Decree is currently being evaluated.

French-speaking Community of Belgium

The objectives and missions of several cultural sectors (youth, continuing education, creativity, libraries, cultural centres, public audio-visual media services) are incorporating issues relating to social cohesion which are generally identified with cultural participation and expression by people and social groups in a vulnerable social or economic situation.

Several associations are supported simultaneously by both social cohesion policies and cultural policies. They thus combine objectives of social inclusion with continuing education cultural practices (citizen participation and expression) or socio-artistic practices (artistic expression in connection with a project linked to living conditions and the social environment).

These sectors account for almost half of cultural spending by the Culture Administration.

Specific programmes to complement the recurrent regulatory provisions are being rolled out to support expression by particular sectors of the public: young people[1], illiterate people[2], people of foreign origin and new arrivals[3], and people suffering a disability[4].

In 2010, in the framework of the European year of the fight against poverty and social exclusion and the Belgian Presidency of the Council of Ministers of the European Union, conclusions were adopted by the Council of Ministers on culture on the initiative of the French-speaking Community, on the role of culture in the fight against poverty and social exclusion. A symposium on the same theme has completed this reflection and stance[5].

[1] ‘Soutien aux projets jeunes’,  circular in application by the French-speaking Community of Belgium since 2007.
[2] ‘Alpha-culture’ is a programme set up in 2007 by the French-speaking Community of Belgium to support and promote projects around artistic or cultural practices conducted with illiterate people as part of their training.
[3] The Immigrant Policy Incentive Fund fell under the responsibility of the Federal State until 2014, but was transferred to the Communities and the Regions in July 2014. It notably supports the social and cultural participation and mixing of people of immigrant origin and new arrivals.
[4] Decree on the inclusion of disabled people, adopted by the Cocof in 2014. In Wallonia, the Walloon Agency for the Integration of Disabled People (AWIPH) focused several actions in 2013 on cultural expression by disabled people via the big screen and the stage.
[5] « Conclusions du Conseil sur le rôle de la culture dans la lutte contre la pauvreté et l’exclusion sociale » (2010/ C 324/03), 1/12/2010, Journal officiel de l’Union européenne.
Le rôle de la culture dans la lutte contre la pauvreté et l’exclusion sociale
, Administration générale de la Culture, Service général de la Jeunesse et de l’Education permanente, Collection Culture Education permanente, n°19, 2013.

Chapter published: 02-12-2014

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