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A partnership with key national organisations is being launched in 2015 to enhance digital services in the heritage sector.


A new Cultural Heritage Act is planned to protect museum collections at national level.

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Netherlands/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.2 Heritage issues and policies

Approach to cultural heritage issues

Cultural heritage in the Netherlands includes museums, historic buildings, sites and landscapes, monuments and art, archaeology. Cultural heritage also includes "cultural spatial planning", in which interested parties collaborate with each other on a development- oriented rather than conservation-oriented approach. Cultural heritage policy accordingly focuses more on the public and on the possible uses of artifacts, rather than on the artifacts themselves.

Cultural heritage policy

On behalf of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) [Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed], carries out government policy, next to the legislation and rules, which the agency develops in cooperation with the government. The Cultural Heritage Agency is involved in listing, preserving, sustainably developing and providing access to (archaeological) monuments, movable heritage, historic landscapes and sites, and shared heritage which have to be preserved on account of their cultural and historic value. The Cultural Heritage Agency is at the heart of heritage management in the Netherlands. The Netherlands has over 61 000 national listed monuments, including 1500 archaeological sites of national importance, and over 440 conservation areas. The Agency also manages the State art collection, comprising some 100 000 items. This year's budget (2016) for maintaining monuments and sites is over EUR 80 million.

Topical policy issues in cultural heritage policy are the modernisation of the monuments care, cultural spatial policies, the evaluation of the archaeology laws and policies concerning the State art collection (over 100 000 items) and museum infrastructure.

In 2009, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science formulated the policy letter, Beleidsbrief Modernisering Monumentenzorg [Modernising Monumental Care]. The document states the following goals: (1) stimulating and supporting work in target areas;

(2) integrating the importance of cultural history in regional planning; (3) formulating a vision of heritage; and (4) reducing the administrative burden. As a follow-up to this policy letter, the policy-vision document Character in focus [Kiezen voor Karakter] was formulated in 2011 and can be considered as the next phase in modernising monument care. This phase focuses on the connection between caring for cultural heritage as an integral part of regional-development challenges in the fields of economics, safety and sustainability. Central government expects that the vision of Character in focus will encourage local governments, instigators, owners, developers and spatial designers  to make maximum use of the value of cultural heritage in regional development. The new policy emphasises the economic value of cultural heritage.

In June 2013, Minister of Culture Jet Bussemaker presented the museum policy letter Samen werken, Samen sterker [Strength through Cooperation], in which she expressed a number of measures to improve the museum system. The leading principle of her approach is to promote the cooperation of museums in order to develop the understanding, conservation and organisation of their public collections, as well as improving public access to them. Basically, this approach is based on two notions: firstly, the ambition to improve cooperation in order to increase profitability for museums, the public and society in general; and secondly, the conviction that museums themselves know bests how to achieve this.

There are some challenges to overcome in the sector. A major part of many collections is currently kept in storage, museums are not yet making the most of the digital revolution, and sponsorship has decreased due to the economic recession. In order to improve these shortcomings, Bussemaker stresses the importance of cooperation, and she has earmarked EUR 2 million per year until 2017 in order to stimulate this.

Heritage Act

Until the summer of 2016 the conservation and management of the Dutch cultural heritage was governed by various regulations and laws. Herein, each type had its own specific heritage definitions, procedures and safeguards. These sectoral fragmentation of the heritage legislation and the necessary adjustments to ensure the quality of the work, were the reasons to establish one integral Cultural Heritage Act[Erfgoedwet] which integrates specific laws and regulations.

The Act, installed on July 1, 2016, replaces six laws and regulations in the field of cultural heritage, including the Monuments and Historic Buildings Act 1988 and the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act 1984 The Cultural Heritage Act regulates matters for both movable and immovable heritage and is an integral part of the Environment Act (see chapter 5.3.3).

From a Cultural heritage perspective in general this Act regulates the national public responsibility for museums and collections. More specifically this Act provides rules concerning:

  • conservation and registration of public collections;
  • financial relations with state financed museums;
  • de-assessing of objects from public collections;
  • protection of public monuments and archaeology;
  • restitution of looted art;
  • finance and governance; and
  • cultural heritage inspection.

Besides this Heritage Act new measures were taken to stimulate the collaboration between museums and other institutions, education, the housing of museums and digitisation.

In this new legal context state financed museums are financed concerning the collection and housing based on the Heritage Act. This financial basis is supplemented by subsidies for the public activities like exhibitions regulated by the four year subsidy cycle in the national cultural political level (the so-called cultuurnotasystematiek (Bina 2016 et al.)

The Cultural Heritage Inspectorate [Erfgoedinspectie] ensures compliance with the law and promotes improvements in the management and care of cultural heritage. In the event of incidents and calamities, the inspectorate takes the necessary action. It also advises the Minister of Education, Culture and Science about the quality and effectiveness of cultural- heritage legislation.

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is responsible for compliance with international treaties, such as those of UNESCO (see chapter 3.4.3).


Since 1999, the Digital Heritage Netherlands, or DEN Foundation [Digitaal Erfgoed Nederland], has been supporting archives, museums and other heritage institutions in improving their digital strategies and services. In the period 2013-2016, DEN is being incorporated into the national basic infrastructure as a knowledge centre for digital heritage. The foundation encourages, and safeguards the quality of, digitisation and digital services in the heritage sector. In her museum policy letter, culture minister Jet Bussemaker emphasises the importance of further digitisation in this sector which developing infrastructure neglects national borders. By making collections digitally accessible, outreach can be increased and a broader audience enticed  to make a physical visit. Such digital development is paramount for scientific research and the wider availability of collections. To achieve standardised services the partnership The Network Digital Heritage (NDE) is launched in 2015. Key players are the KB, National Library of the Netherlands [Koninklijke Bibliotheek], Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision [Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid], the National Archives of the Netherlands [Nationaal Archief], Cultural Heritage Agency [Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed] and the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (KNAW). In July 2016 they published National Digital Heritage Strategy which offers a perspective on developing a national, cross-sector infrastructure of digital heritage facilities.

The Netherlands contribute to, a portal with books, paintings, films, museum objects and archival records from digitised collections of cultural and scientific organisations.

For more information, see
European Heritage Network: Country profile of the Netherlands

Chapter published: 13-03-2017

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