Dutch cultural policy is based on the premise that the state should distance itself from judgements regarding the value of art. Artistic development has therefore largely been the result of the initiatives of private citizens and a large number of foundations dedicated 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.
By law, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science is responsible for creating conditions conducive to maintaining, developing and disseminating (both socially and geographically) cultural expression. Dutch cultural policy is reformulated every four years, but there is a high degree of continuity in practice. Internationalisation, participation, education, innovation, talent development, entrepreneurship and the preservation of cultural heritage have been priority areas. From 2011 onwards, the main focal points shifted to participation, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. In her plans for the period 2021-2024, current Minister of Education, Culture and Science Ingrid van Engelshoven prioritises fair pay in the cultural sector, accessibility of culture for as wide a variety of Dutch inhabitants as possible, cooperation between the different tiers of government and a broad range of cultural offerings to reflect the different preferences that exist in both society and the cultural field itself.
Besides cultural policy, the central government also develops policy concerning media affairs. Dutch media operate on the basis of freedom of speech and independence. The government is not allowed to interfere in media. The Dutch government sees it as its responsibility to provide a good climate for media pluralism and access to free, pluralistic, independent and reliable information of high quality. For that purpose, the government enables an independent representative public broadcasting system with the obligation to offer high-quality, varied and balanced content. The principles governing the organisation, funding and tasks of these public broadcasters are laid down in the Media Act (2008) (see chapters 2.5.3 and 3.5.3).
According to the Cultural Policy Act (Wet op het specifiek cultuurbeleid, 1993), the Minister of Education, Culture and Science is obliged to present a policy memorandum every four years. These policy plans review the past policy cycle, name developments that impact the execution of cultural policy and give the guidelines for cultural policy in the years to come. Thus, in these memoranda, a plan is laid down with regard to public spending on the cultural sector as a whole for a four-year period, providing a number of cultural institutions with a relatively secure basis for management and planning in the knowledge that they have sufficient financial support. The responsibilities that are assigned to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, are mainly found in providing conditions for the preservation, development and social and geographical distribution of cultural expressions of national significance. To do so, the Minister should follow the principles of excellence and diversity (in disciplines).
In order to provide a structure for a supply of high-quality art and culture, a national basic infrastructure (BIS) is determined every four years, listing the cultural institutions that are to receive direct state subsidy. The Dutch Council for Culture provides the government with recommendations for this BIS. Because the number of institutions applying for state funding increased substantially after 1997, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science established a number of public cultural funds in 2006 in order for them to distribute means to cultural institutions and artists based on their specific criteria (for a full list of these funds, see chapter 7.2.2).
After an amendment made to the Cultural Policy Act in 2009, smaller cultural institutions and companies had to submit their subsidy requests directly to the public cultural funds (see chapter 7.1). With that, the responsibility of these funds increased; besides granting project-based subsidies, they can also allocate structural two and four year-subsidies. In addition to these subsidies, provinces and municipalities also award grants (see chapters 1.2.3 and 1.2.4).
For the policy programmes the central government implements in collaboration with other ministries and public institutions, for instance in relation to education and philanthropy, please see chapter 1.2.6.
The arts and culture were introduced into the governmental portfolio in 1918, with the formation of the Ministry of Education, Arts and Science (then: 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. An overview of the most important developments:
1930: The start of the implementation of policy regarding the media. With a resolution on broadcasting time, plans for a single national broadcasting company were abandoned in favour of a system that reflected the ‘pillarised’ Dutch society.
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 specialised newspapers, broadcasting channels and amateur art organisations. Pillarisation had a major influence on the media system. Its impact is still visible in public broadcasting today (see chapter 2.5.3).
1945-1960: Post-war, the government extended its financial support to new areas such as film, theatre and literature; a 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 temporary. In the early 1950s, the Dutch Arts Council (now Council for Culture) was established.
1960-1970: The influence of the ideological pillars decreased in Dutch society, while the importance of diversity in artistic expression grew. Subsidies were given based on a new criterion: artistic quality. The goal was to achieve a nationwide infrastructure to support a cultural supply of a standardized quality. Support of the arts and culture became more structural and municipalities were involved in building local facilities.
1970s-1980: Cultural policy became increasingly important in the government’s welfare policy. The benefits and relevance of culture to society as a whole was recognised as a priority, notably in terms of cultural participation and access to all.
1980-1990: Due to the economic stagnation of the early 1980s, budget cuts were made and cultural institutions were stimulated to reduce their dependence on subsidies. In 1988 the systematic (four year) Arts Plan was adopted, in which the Council for Culture assesses the quality of the institutes that receive direct state funding.
1990-2000: Cultural organisations were privatised and encouraged to become more independent and increase their focus on their markets and audiences. They were particularly stimulated to cater to a younger audience as well as to the increasing population of ethnic minorities. The Cultural Policy Act of 1993 (Wet op het Specifiek Cultuurbeleid) bound itself to the renewal of the cultural policy plan every four years.
2000-2010: In 2003, State Secretary Medy van der Laan (Liberal Democrats) called upon cultural institutions to become more financially responsible. From 2006 onward, smaller cultural institutions and companies had to direct their subsidy requests to the public cultural funds (see chapter 7.1). Minister of Culture Ronald Plasterk (2007-2010, Social Democrats) switched the main focal point to participation and better facilities for and guidance of outstanding talent. The economic crisis of 2008 brought an end to the relatively long period of gradual growth in the state budget for culture and media.
2010-present: The coalition agreement of the Rutte I Cabinet (2010-2012) determined the outlines for subsequent budget cuts. Media affairs were separated from the cultural portfolio. In June 2013, Minister Jet Bussemaker (Social Democrats) revealed her vision for culture in the policy letter Culture moves (Cultuur beweegt: de betekenis van cultuur in een veranderende samenleving), which stresses the social value of culture and creativity in a changing society. Her 2015 letter Space for Culture (Ruimte voor cultuur) contained the principles for cultural policy in the period 2017-2020.
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 1.2.6). Followed by Besluiten culturele basisinfrastructuur periode 2017-2020 (Decisions on the Cultural Infrastructure) in September. That document explained the division of 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 1.2.2, 1.2.3, 1.2.4 and 2.1).
Since October 2017, Ingrid van Engelshoven (Liberal Democrats) 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, chapters 1.5 (culture) and 1.7 (media)). In her 2018 letter Cultuur in een open samenleving (Culture in an open society), Minister Van Engelshoven sets out her cultural agenda. Her priorities are: encouraging openness and curiosity from a young age onward as well as the development of new culture and –makers and a strong and inspiring cultural environment (in relation to heritage, the creative industries and international cultural policy). The current Rutte III government is structurally investing an additional EUR 80 million in culture and historic-democratic awareness with an additional one-time investment of EUR 325 million in heritage.
 Meerkerk, E. van en Q.L. van den Hoogen (eds.). 2018. Cultural Policy in the Polder: 25 Years Dutch Cultural Policy Act. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press: 19.