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Municipalities and provinces have been reducing their culture budgets in recent years and more cuts are expected.


A Cultural Survey: Developments and Trends in Cultural Life in the Netherlands (2014) will help guide the policies of the Minister of Culture in the coming years.

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Netherlands/ 3. Competence, decision-making and administration  

3.2 Overall description of the system

In order to understand the Dutch cultural policy system, it is important to bear in mind four key issues:

  • the relationship between state and other levels of government;
  • the role of advisory committees;
  • the role of funding bodies in the arts; and
  • law-based regulations for planning cultural policy.

The relationship between state and other levels of government

Public governance in the Netherlands is organised as a three-tier system consisting of central, provincial and municipal government. In each tier, a system of dual responsibility prevails: parliament, county councils and local councils have the right to amend the financial and governmental recommendations of the cabinet, provincial deputies and mayors and aldermen. All three tiers pursue their own cultural policy with their own funding and advisory streams. In collaboration with the other tiers, they attempt to create an effective cultural environment throughout the country.   

In preparing and fixing regulations, laws and cultural policy programmes, central government takes the lead, although it covers only one-third of all expenses related to art and culture. The main role of central government in this field is to take responsibility for subsidised arts and cultural institutes and companies. Central government subsidises those museums with a collection of national importance, symphonic orchestras, opera, theatre and dance companies, plus some other organisations of (inter)national importance. Central government is also responsible for the national digital library, monuments of national importance, and the national public broadcasting system. Another important task of central government is the drafting of laws concerning cultural and media-related issues. Examples of these laws are the Copyright Act 1912, the Media Act 2008 and the Fixed Book Prices Act (see chapter 5.2 for an overview of the legislation on culture).

Municipalities and provinces are primarily responsible for the implementation of their own cultural policies. Moreover they are both responsible for cultural interactions between the local and the regional levels. The majority of Dutch museums and libraries are financially dependent on municipalities. Municipalities also play an important role providing and subsidising facilities concerning education in the arts and culture (see chapter 8.4.1). They are responsible for maintaining the various venues and facilities and for scheduling performances. The provinces are given the task of spreading, regulating and maintaining the supply of culture at the provincial level.

Central government also has the task of creating conditions within which the other levels of government and the cultural organisations can function at their best. In 2010, the Rutte I Cabinet (2010-2012) reconsidered the government's role in cultural support. His aim was to open up the sector to the private market, to create an enabling environment for a market system in the cultural sector, and to stimulate cultural entrepreneurship. This, in combination with the economic crisis which began in 2008, led to budget cuts and targeted choices in awarding subsidies. In this way, central government created more distance between itself and the cultural sector.

In 2012, the total culture budget was over EUR 3.4 billion, of which EUR 1 billion was provided by the central government, EUR 307 million by the provincial governments and almost EUR 2 billion by the municipal governments (see chapter 6). Provinces and municipalities are subject to budget cuts. Expenditures from the 12 provinces decreased 23% on average between 2013-2015, but especially the arts were not spared: 40%, as some provinces cut the arts altogether out of their budget. (Bekkers et al., Boekman #103, 2015). Between 2010 and 2016 average expenditure by Dutch municipalities on art and culture decreased by 21 percent (Cultuur in beeld 2016).

Inter-administrative relations

All three tiers of government pursue relatively autonomous cultural policy objectives. For this reason, cooperation between central government, the provinces and the municipalities is of crucial importance. This prevents bureaucracy and fragmentation and stimulates effective policy-making. Shared responsibility has been embodied in joint financing agreements (covenants) between central government, regions and cities for co-financed activities. The partners involved are the eight "covenant partners", as they are known, namely the three largest cities - Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague - plus five clusters of provinces and larger cities: the Central, Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western Netherlands.

The framework for policy coordination between the regions, the three major cities and the three governmental tiers is laid down in the General Framework for Intergovernmental Relations with respect to Culture.

This framework is based upon consultation between the umbrella organisation for the provinces: Interprovincial Coordination for Culture [Interprovinciaal Overleg Cultuur, IPO]; that for the municipalities: Association of Netherlands Municipalities [Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten, VNG]; and central government. The framework includes policy priorities and the distribution of finances over the cultural sectors, funds and programmes. It forms the basis for the cultural covenants to be made between the partners involved. The framework also elaborates on the division of tasks between the three governmental tiers. All matters that deal with linking central government policy to the policies of provinces and municipalities are discussed on an annual basis.

The agreements and the policy plans for the period 2013-2016 are incorporated in the latest general framework. The framework includes joint principles concerning cultural heritage and cultural education. In both cases, central government is responsible for the financial and the legislative framework while the provinces take responsibility for regional distribution and the maintenance of institutions beyond municipal borders. The municipalities have the task of (1) enabling the institutions to function; (2) providing policy directions; and (3) ensuring diversity and high quality. Minister Bussemaker, in order to reduce the complexity of the cultural system, aims to improve cooperation between the three governmental tiers and the public cultural funds.

The role of advisory committees

A basic principle of the Dutch government is to remain neutral in assessing arts issues. The government is expected to focus solely on policy issues, which is the reason why the government leaves decision-making about the arts mainly to various committees of independent experts. The cultural institutions and the cultural funds directly funded by the central governmental are part of the so-called national basic infrastructure (BIS). For the period 2017-2020, the BIS comprise 88 institutions and six public cultural funds (see chapter 7.1 and chapter 7.2). The advisory committees provide advice.

The Council for Culture [Raad voor Cultuur] is a separate body that advises the government on the principles and implementation of policy plans. Advisory bodies also exist at municipal and provincial level including, for example, the Amsterdam Arts Council.

In order to advise Minister Bussemaker over the period 2017-2020, the Council produced a Cultural survey: developments and trends in the cultural life in the Netherlands (2014). In this document current trends are summarised: the arts form new connections, amongst others with science; cities are the focal point of cultural activity, cultural policy should bear that  in mind; digitisation changes cultural production, distribution and access; artists and cultural institutions are becoming more internationally oriented; while regulation increases, the cultural field is increasingly informally organised; new financial sources and models are scarce; knowledge and expertise are under pressure in the heritage sector; artists are often self-employed; the roles of creation, professional, expert, amateur or audience are starting to blend; the development of talent of young professionals is increasingly off the beaten track. The cultural survey was the basis for the Agenda voor cultuur 2017-2020 en verder [Agenda for Culture 2017-2020 and further, 2015, summary).

In Advies culturele basisinfrastructuur 2017-2020 [Recommendations on the national basic infrastructure 2017-2020] the Council motivates which cultural institutions in the national basic infrastructure in its opinion qualify for a four-year state subsidy from 2017 onwards. 118 applications were assessed by the Council based on the criteria of quality, education and participation, social value (including public outreach and entrepreneurship) and geographical distribution. The Council for Culture has given positive recommendations to 77 grant applications from cultural institutions. 14 institutions are given a second chance; they must submit a new plan before the start of the new funding period.

The Council is enthusiastic about the attention which the institutions pay to talent and education, aimed both at students and pupils and at adults or senior citizens. The Council believes that the institutions should make a greater effort to attract an audience that better reflects the changing demographics in the Netherlands. That also applies to the often unbalanced composition of the supervisory boards. In their plans most institutions still pay too little attention to diversity. Also the way in which they implement the Cultural Diversity Code is often limited.

According to the Council the Dutch "cultuurbestel" is due for a re-evaluation. Trends and developments within and outside the cultural sector make it necessary to redefine the function of the BIS and cultural funds, and the relationship with regional cultural policies.


In the current cultural system, the central government does not pursue specific policy regulations regarding ethnic minorities. Instead, policy includes all Dutch citizens, without any division between minority groups (see chapter 4.2.4 for more information about cultural diversity).

The role of funding bodies in the arts

There are six government-subsidised cultural funds: the Performing Arts Fund NL [Fonds Podiumkunsten], Dutch Foundation for Literature [Nederlands Letterenfonds], Mondriaan Fund [Mondriaan Fonds: visual arts and cultural heritage], Cultural Participation Fund [Fonds voor Cultuurparticipatie: cultural education, amateur arts and popular culture], Netherlands Film Fund [Nederlands Filmfonds], and the Creative Industries Fund NL [Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie: applied arts] (see chapter 8.1.1). The responsibility of central government goes no further than furnishing money and determining the specific conditions under which the funds must operate (also the minister has to approve all arrangements). Parliament has the final word when it comes to the size of the budget. The Council for Culture [Raad voor Cultuur] evaluates these public cultural funds every four years. Furthermore, there are several private foundations that support the arts, such as the VandenEnde Foundation, VSB Fonds, Prince Bernhard Cultural Foundation [Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds] and Buma Culture[Buma Cultuur]. The media has its own funding bodies: the Co-production Fund National Public Broadcasting [Co-productiefonds Binnenlandse omroep] and the Dutch Journalism  Fund [Stimuleringsfonds voor de journalistiek]. The Dutch Cultural Media Fund [Mediafonds] will be dismantled on 1 January 2017. The tasks of the fund will be taken over by the Dutch Public Broadcasting (NPO) and the Dutch Journalism Fund (see chapter 7.3).

Law-based regulations for planning cultural policy

In 1993, the Cultural Policy Act [Wet op het specifiek cultuurbeleid]was introduced. This act determines aspects of cultural policy, such as the government's obligation to submit a cultural policy plan to parliament every four years. This four-year plan outlines activities for the forthcoming period, as well as reviewing achievements from the previous period. Furthermore, it regulates the government's option of issuing subsidies to provinces and municipalities. In 2009, an amendment was added to the Cultural Policy Act to the effect that subsidy requests from smaller cultural institutions and companies would no longer be part of the four-year cultural policy cycle, but would be submitted to the public cultural funds (see chapter 5 for a complete overview of the cultural legislation).

Chapter published: 07-03-2017

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