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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

In the Netherlands, public governance is organised as a three-tier system consisting of central, provincial and municipal government. In each tier, a system of dual responsibility prevails: parliament, provincial councils and local councils have the right to amend the financial and governmental recommendations of the cabinet, provincial deputies, 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, the 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 is to take responsibility for subsidised arts, cultural institutes and companies. The 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. The central government is also responsible for the national digital library, monuments of national importance, and the national public broadcasting system. Another important task 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.

The central government also has the task of creating conditions in which the other levels of government and the cultural organisations can function best.

The total government budget in 2018 amounted to EUR 277 billion. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science will receive EUR 35.4 billion (Miljoenennota 2017). Within this Ministry, education and science receive the biggest amount.

In 2017, the total annual government expenditure on culture was around EUR 2.8 billion (municipalities 61%, central government 29%, provinces 10%). In 2016, the contribution of the cultural and creative sector to GPD was 2,3%. In 2017, 285 institutions received a multi-year subsidy with a total budget of EUR 387.2 million.

Expenditure on culture by the provinces was EUR 46.9 million in 2017, averaging EUR 14 per inhabitant (on cultural heritage and libraries). Municipalities jointly spent more than EUR 1.7 billion per year on culture; an average of EUR 101 euros per inhabitant (on cultural accommodation, collections, local availability, music schools and libraries) (Cultuur in beeld 2017) (Table 1 in chapter 6.2.2).

Inter-administrative relations

All three tiers of government pursue relatively autonomous cultural policy objectives. Therefore, cooperation between central government, the provinces and the municipalities is considered to be imported. 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", 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], the umbrella organization for the municipalities, Association of Netherlands Municipalities [Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten, VNG], and the 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. During this period, Minister Bussemaker, aimed to improve cooperation between the three governmental tiers and the public cultural funds, in order to reduce the complexity of the cultural system.

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 comprises 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, for example the Amsterdam Arts Council.

In order to advise Minister Bussemaker for the period 2017-2020, the Council produced a Cultural survey: developments and trends in the cultural life in the Netherlands (2014). In this document, the current trends are summarised: the arts form new connections, amongst others with science; cities are the focal point of cultural activity and 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; and the development of talent of young professionals increasingly takes place 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 for the national basic infrastructure 2017-2020], the Council motivates which cultural institutions in the national basic infrastructure 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 and 14 institutions are given a second chance; they must submit a new plan before the start of the new funding period.

The Council is positive about the institutions’ attention for 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. This also applies to the often unbalanced composition of the supervisory boards. In their plans, most institutions pay not enough attention to diversity. The implementation of the Cultural Diversity Code is often limited as well.

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 light of a possible review of the subsidy system after 2020, the Council for Culture published, in 2017 and 2018, a number of sector-related recommendations with developments and trends per sector (visual art, literature and libraries, the audiovisual sector, monuments and archeology, museums, the design sector (architecture, design, e-culture) and performing arts (dance, music, music theater, theater). Source: Council for Culture


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], Dutch 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 is to distribute money to the funds and determine the conditions under which the funds must operate. The Minister has to approve the regulations and these cultural funds are evaluated 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] ceased to exist on January 1st, 2017 and the tasks of the fund were transferred to the Dutch Foundation for 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 crucial aspects of the Dutch cultural policy, such as the government's obligation to submit a cultural policy plan to parliament every four years. This four-year plan provides sustainable financial support and 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. Since 2009, a group of smaller cultural institutions and companies is no longer part of the basic infrastructure, but is funded by the public cultural funds (see chapter 5 for a complete overview of the cultural legislation).

Chapter published: 12-02-2019

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