Author: Ineke van Hamersveld, Vladimír Bìna
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 moderator of cultural activities, apart from being the largest patron for public art and culture. A Department for Art and Culture has been in existence since 1945. Until ten years ago, political responsibility lay in the hands of ministers. In 1994, the political responsibility for arts and cultural affairs was given to a State Secretary, in combination with media affairs.
Until the 1970s, Dutch society was characterised by pillarisation. Different social groups, or pillars - liberal, socialist, catholic, protestant - expressed their ideology via their own means of transmission including specialised newspapers or broadcasting channels and amateur art organisations. This development, however, had little direct effect on professional artistic life.
The period of German occupation was followed by an extension of government support to new areas such as film, theatre and literature. Financial support was a token gesture in order to repair the disrupted relationship between the artist and society. At that time is was generally assumed that state aid to art and culture should be for a limited period of time. Just after 1950, the Arts Council was installed by the cabinet.
In the 1960s, the ideological pillars gradually became less important in Dutch society. In order to support as many different individual expressions of culture as possible the government started to subsidise works based on new criteria - quality. The definition of quality was left to advisory committees. The goal was to achieve a nationwide cultural infrastructure to host a cultural supply of a rather standardised quality. To this end, the government changed the nature of its financing of 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 benefit 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 on both the levels of social class and geographical spread.
The economic stagnation of the early 1980s meant that the government had to reconsider its tasks in various fields, including culture. Two movements began in the field of cultural policy: on the one hand, the government continued to fund cultural institutions that could guarantee high artistic quality and professionalism. On the other hand, the state aimed at keeping public spending within specific boundaries. A question mark was placed against the reliance of cultural institutions on public funding when budget funding replaced operating subsidies. Institutions were now given the possibility to acquire extra earnings and their dependence on subsidies was reduced. At the end of this period, the government undertook to prepare a cultural policy plan every four years.
The 1990s witnessed a change in the attitude of the Ministry of Welfare, Public Health and Culture, later becoming the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in 1994. Instead of providing across-the-board funding to cultural organisations, the government started to offer financial incentives. Cultural organisations were encouraged to become more independent financially and to look at their market, i.e. their audiences. They were particularly called upon to cater for the needs of a new, young audience and to an increasing population of ethnic minorities. In addition to the tasks of the state, private initiative and private funding were welcomed.
Due to economic recession, a relatively long period of gradual and general growth in the state budget for culture and media ended in 2004. Increasing and decreasing budgets have been announced simultaneously. From 2004 to 2008 the funding for so called "support organisations" (documentation, research, mediation, professional services etc.) in the field of arts and culture has been reduced by 10% (i.e. euros 5-6 million).
In June 2006, the State Secretary sent a policy paper to Parliament further refining her intention to bring about structural changes to the cultural policy-making system, as set out previously in her policy document Making a Difference [Verschil maken, 2005]. Reasons for adjusting the system included the increasing number of applications for government subsidy over the previous few years and the continuing elaboration of procedures that weighed on the system. Under the motto "at arms length where possible, but involved where necessary", several changes were planned for the cultural policy-making system: less bureaucracy in the support for arts and culture (including changes in the roles of Parliament, the Council for Culture and the Public Cultural Funds which play an important role in executing national cultural policy and are subsidised by the government: see chapter 8.1.2; for private funds, see chapter 7.3), more connection and interaction in cultural life (emphasis on arts education and participation) and reinforcement of the cultural factor in society (stimulation of other domains in society to link up with the domain of arts and culture, etc).