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Netherlands/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Jack van der Leden

Dutch cultural policy is based on the premise that the state should distance itself from value judgements on art. 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). There has been a department for arts and culture ever since, with a minister and/or a state secretary responsible for the cultural portfolio.

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 fields of culture and media (see chapter 4.2.6).

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 (now Council for Culture).

From 1960, the ideological pillars gradually became less important in Dutch society while the importance of diversity in artistic expression grew. 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 standardized quality. To this end, the government changed the nature of its financing of arts and culture 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 public responsibilities and ambitions 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 and many cultural 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 (Wet op het Specifiek Cultuurbeleid, [Cultural Policy Act], 1993).

In the 1990s, cultural organisations were privatised and encouraged to become more independent financially and organisationally and to focus on 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 contributions of the state, private initiatives and private funding were welcomed.

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 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, a relatively long period of gradual and general growth in the state budget for culture and media came to an end. 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 on culture funding (see chapter 4.1).

In June 2013, Minister Jet Bussemaker (Social Democrats) revealed her vision for culture in the policy letter Cultuur beweegt: de betekenis van cultuur in een veranderende samenleving, 2013  [Culture moves] which stresses the social value of culture and creativity in a changing society. Her letter Ruimte voor cultuur [Space for Culture, 2015] contains the principles for cultural policy in the period 2017-2020 and for the national basic infrastructure, meaning the cultural institutions which receive state funding (see chapter 4.1).

In May 2016, a policy framework on international cultural policy was published by the Ministries of Education, Culture and Science and of Foreign Affairs (see chapter 3.4.1). Also in May 2016, the Council for Culture presented its recommendations on the grant applications for the cultural policy period 2017-2020.

In the 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 September, Minister Bussemaker published Besluiten culturele basisinfrastructuur periode 2017-2020. In this document, she explains how she divides subsidies among the institutionsin the national infrastructure for the period 2017-2020. In total, 88 cultural institutions and 6 funds receive an amount of EUR 379,91 million per year. EUR 10 million extra is spent in the national basic infrastructure, including on the six cultural funds. This amount mainly benefits the development of talent, cultural education and public outreach, especially in the regions (see chapter 3.2 and 4.1).

Since October 2017, Ingrid van Engelshoven (Democratic Liberals) has been the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, which makes her responsible for culture (as well as higher education, science and emancipation). Arie Slob (Christian Democrats) is Minister for the Media (in addition to primary and secondary education, and archives) (see the Coalition Agreement Confidence in the Future and chapter 4).

In her letter Cultuur in een open samenleving[Culture in an open society] (2018), Minister Van Engelshoven sets out her cultural agenda. Her priorities are: encouraging openness and curiosity from a young age onwards, the development of new culture and makers; an inspiring environment (heritage and creative industries; culture without borders (international cultural policy); and a strong cultural sector. The Rutte III government invested EUR 325 million in heritage and EUR 80 million in culture and historical-democratical awareness.

Chapter published: 06-02-2019

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