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Netherlands/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Lisa Van Woersem in cooperation with Robert Oosterhuis

Cultural policy in the Netherlands is based on the premise that the state should distance itself from value judgements on art and science. Artistic development has therefore been the result of the activities of private citizens and a large number of foundations, many of them related to culture. Over the years, the government has gradually assumed the role of a moderator of cultural activities, apart from being the largest patron of public art and culture. The arts and culture were introduced into the governmental portfolio in 1918, with the formation of the Ministry of Education, Arts and Science (OKW). Ever since then, there has been a department for arts and culture, with a minister and / or a state secretary responsible for the cultural portfolio.Amsterdam by Night

In 1930, the government began to implement a policy regarding the media. Until the 1970s, Dutch society was characterised by "pillarisation" (verzuiling). Different social groups, or "pillars" – liberals, socialists, Catholics, Protestants – expressed their ideology via their own means of transmission, including specialised newspapers, broadcasting channels and amateur art organisations. Pillarisation had a major influence on the media system. Its impact is still evident in the cultural system in 2013, especially in the field of media (see  chapter 4.2.6). Since 2012, Minister Jet Bussemaker (Social Democrats) is responsible for cultural affairs, assisted by State Secretary Sander Dekker (Liberals), who is responsible for media affairs. 

Following the period of German occupation (1940-1945), there was an extension of government support to new areas such as film, theatre and literature. Financial support was a token gesture intended to repair the disrupted relationship between the artist and society. At that time, it was generally assumed that state aid to art and culture should be for a limited period of time only. In the early 1950s, the cabinet established the Dutch Arts Council.

From 1960, the ideological pillars gradually became less important in Dutch society. Diversity in artistic expression became more important. In order to support as many different individual expressions of culture as possible, the government began to subsidise works based on new criteria – artistic quality. The definition of "quality" was left to advisory committees. The goal was to achieve a nationwide cultural infrastructure to support a cultural supply of a standardised quality. To this end, the government changed the nature of its financing of the arts and cultural supply from a temporary to a more permanent basis. Municipalities were involved in building local facilities.

In the 1970s, cultural policy became an increasing part of the government's welfare policy. The benefits and relevance of culture to society as a whole became a priority, notably in terms of cultural participation. The social role of culture was perceived both on the level of social class and in the context of geographical spread.

The economic stagnation of the early 1980s meant that the government had to reconsider its tasks in various fields, including culture. The government still focused on high artistic quality and professionalism, but at the same time budget cuts had to be made. Institutions were stimulated to acquire extra earnings in order to reduce their dependence on subsidies. At the end of this period, the government committed itself to preparing a cultural policy plan every four years.

The 1990s witnessed a change in the attitude of the Ministry of Welfare, Public Health and Culture, which became the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) in 1994. Cultural organisations were encouraged to become more independent financially and to look to their market, i.e. their audiences. They were particularly called upon to cater to the needs of a fresh, young audience, and to an increasing population of ethnic minorities. In addition to the contributions of the state, private initiatives and private funding were welcomed.

Because of economic recession, a relatively long period of gradual and general growth in the state budget for culture and media came to an end. In 2003, State Secretary Medy van der Laan (Democratic Liberals) called for more (financial) responsibility from cultural institutions. She also made some structural changes in the cultural policy-making system. From 2006, subsidy requests for smaller cultural institutions and companies were no longer a part of the four-year cultural policy document (planning) cycle, but were instead submitted to the public cultural funds (see  chapter 8.1.2).

Over the following period, the Minister of Culture Ronald Plasterk (Social Democrats) switched the main focal point of cultural policy from the social value of arts and culture, to their intrinsic value. Participation in culture and better facilities for the guidance and encouragement of outstanding talent were the main objectives in this policy period. The next governmental period (that of the Rutte I Cabinet, 2010-2012), saw a separation of the portfolio for media affairs from the cultural portfolio. The then Minister for Education, Culture and Science, Marja van Bijsterveldt (Christian Democrats), was therefore now responsible for media affairs, assisted by the then State Secretary Halbe Zijlstra (Liberals) who was responsible for cultural affairs.

Due to the economic crisis of 2008, government expenditure needed to be reduced. The coalition agreement of the Rutte I Cabinet determined the outlines for subsequent budget cuts. In 2011, State Secretary Zijlstra published the policy memorandum for the period 2013-2016, which detailed the cuts to culture funding. Zijlstra aimed to reduce the dependence of cultural institutes on state funding and to increase both cultural entrepreneurship and the role of private sponsorship and donation (see chapter 4.1).

Since November 2012, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Jet Bussemaker has been responsible for the cultural portfolio, while media affairs are the portfolio of State Secretary Sander Dekker. In June 2013, Bussemaker revealed her vision for culture in a policy letter which stresses the social value of culture and creativity in a changing society (see chapter 4.1).


Chapter published: 04-02-2014

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              Council of Europe/ERICarts, "Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, 15th edition", 2014 | ISSN 2222-7334