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Belgium/ 5.2 Legislation on culture  

Flemish Community

For several years, mainly in the period 1993-2008, Flanders has been working on a thorough restructuring of the legislation on culture. Important principles are:

  • changing as many regulations into decrees as possible. Decrees are suggested by the government or the Flemish Parliament and submitted for approval to the Flemish Parliament;
  • combating the disintegration of regulation as much as possible, also in view of a more coherent, integrated cultural policy. Good examples are the Arts Decree, the Heritage Decree, the Local Cultural Policy Decree, the Participation Decree and the Circus Decree. New coordinating decrees also include stipulations for sub sectors or disciplines to take related characteristics or laws into account;
  • the system of subsidising organisations over the longer term, which was already implemented for several sectors, has become a common principle for most of the cultural sector. The system is based on the policy plans of the organisations funded, which are also regularly updated and evaluated. In addition, project-based subsidies are also possible. The range of support for individual artists will be extended; and
  • the current policy term (2009-2014) has been described as a period of "decretal rest", which means that there will be no major innovations in the legislation, but rather a thorough evaluation of the current policy instruments.

Arts Decree

The Arts Decree - Decree concerning the Subsidising of Arts Organisations, Artists, Arts Education and Social-artistic Organisations, International Initiatives, Publications and Support Centres was adopted on the 2nd April 2004. From 2006 (2007 for music), this Decree replaced the former decrees and regulations addressing various art forms: performing arts, music, visual and audiovisual arts, literature, architecture, design, new media and all hybrid art forms. In 2008, amendments were made to the Arts Decree aimed at making it more transparent, to optimise its implementation and to reduce the administrative burden on arts organisations and individual artists.

The Arts Decree offers two-or four-year multiannual funding for various types of organisations and project grants to artists and organisations. Furthermore, there is support for international initiatives, arts education or socio-artistic projects, publications, and support centres for the different arts disciplines. Finally, there are bursaries for individual artists. Quality assessment is based on peer evaluation.

Cultural Heritage Decree

Since the late 1990s, different new decrees had been introduced in the domain of cultural heritage: the Archive Decree (19/7/2002), the Heritage Decree (7/05/2004), the Decree of Popular Culture (27/10/1998). In 2008 these decrees were integrated into a new umbrella Decree on the Development, Organisation and Funding of Flemish Cultural Heritage, also called the Cultural Heritage Decree (23 May 2008).

The Cultural Heritage Decree deals only with movable and intangible heritage (oral history, traditions, rites …). The policy for immovable heritage (monuments, landscapes and archaeological sites) is issued through other decrees.

The main objectives of the Cultural Heritage Decree are to:

  • provide an integrated and comprehensive approach to cultural heritage, aligned with other policy areas such as youth and senior citizens’ policies, tourism policy, education, and the policy for the immovable heritage;
  • give attention to different functions, not only to the care of cultural heritage (conservation and management, depots, inventories…) but also audience participation, education, research,… as well; and
  • develop partnerships with other levels of government (municipalities, provinces, Belgium and the EU).

The Cultural Heritage Decree aims at anchoring the achievements from the three decrees mentioned above and encouraging complementary initiatives to cover the entire heritage field. Bundling the available budgets allowed a number of initiatives to start up within the new Decree and enabled the Flemish Community to:

  • introduce a quality label for museums, cultural archives and heritage libraries;
  • stimulate alliances and collaborations in the heritage field. The merger of the two existing support centres into one Flemish support centre for cultural heritage (called Faro) has been completed. The alliance "The Flemish Heritage Library" is another example;
  • assume responsibility for cultural heritage organisations that play a role throughout the whole of Flanders and take on an international dimension. On the basis of that policy the following organisations can apply for subsidies: museums and cultural archives; cultural archives; heritage organisations for popular culture; expertise centres for cultural heritage; "Archiefbank Flanders", an archive database; the Flemish Heritage Library, an alliance between different libraries; partnerships aimed at strengthening the international image of art collections and regional cultural heritage periodicals;
  • support local cultural heritage policies by concluding cultural heritage covenants with municipalities, provinces and the Flemish Community Commission in Brussels; and
  • subsidise one-off cultural heritage publications with national relevance and international cultural heritage projects.

Topstukkendecreet ("Masterpiece Decree")

The Decree Concerning the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage of Exceptional Significance of 24 January 2003 – the so-called Masterpiece Decree is about the protection of the most important movable cultural heritage because of its special archaeological, historical, cultural, artistic or scientific significance. A shortlist has been drawn, listing rare and invaluable masterpieces in Flanders to which the "Topstukkendecreet" has been applied. For these protected masterpieces and exceptional collections, conservation and restoration grants can be requested. The Decree also includes regulations concerning the exportation of major works (out of the Flemish Community) and a purchase obligation by the Flemish government in case of denial of an export license. The Council for the preservation of movable cultural heritage advises the Minister about the shortlist of masterpieces.

Participation Decree

The Participation Decree entered into force on the 1 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 into cultural participation is also important for the policy; and
  • grants for large scale cultural events.

Circus Decree

The Circus Decree (21 November 2008) aims at the optimal development of the circus arts in Flanders. To achieve this, the Decree wants to:

  • support the creation, distribution, promotion and professionalisation of the circus arts in Flanders;
  • encourage and promote a diversified supply of circus arts throughout Flanders; and
  • develop an integrated and sustainable Flemish policy on the circus arts.

The Circus Decree subsidises the creation of Flemish circus arts productions, subsidises the dissemination of Flemish circus arts productions, funds education and training of circus artists, and subsidises the support and promotion of circus arts.

Local Cultural Policy Decree

The Local Cultural Policy Decree - Decree concerning the Stimulation of a Qualitative and Integrated Local Cultural Policy was adopted on 13 July 2001.

With this Decree, the Flemish government aims to stimulate an integral local cultural policy. Local authorities are assigned a large role in policymaking and are responsible for their cultural policy. The Decree includes obligations in the areas of participation and consultation (cultural council) and public libraries. Other issues are optional: drawing up or carrying out a cultural policy plan, cultural centres or community centres and inter-municipal cooperation. Municipalities can receive financial support from the Flemish government (see chapter 8.4.2).

On 13 July 2007, the Flemish government endorsed an amendment to the Decree on Local Cultural Policy.

French-speaking Community of Belgium

Decree of 24 October 2008 determining the conditions of subsidizing employment in the socio-cultural sectors of the French Community

German-speaking Community

The cultural policy is currently based on various sets of rules (Decrees, Orders of the government, Circulars). The German-speaking Community has set itself the goal of renewing this legislation taking account of certain principles, such as considering a specific sector as a whole, consolidating individual sets of rules in an overall text and simplifying administrative processes.

Chapter published: 02-12-2014

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