There are ten provinces and (at the time of writing) 581 communes in the whole of Belgium. Five provinces are located in the Flemish Region. These comprise 300 communes, of which thirteen are officially acknowledged as ‘centre cities’ (‘centrumsteden’; this status has an effect on, e.g., their funding). There is no provincial authority sensu stricto in the Brussels-Capital Region, which spans 19 different communes. In the hierarchy of government levels (see 1.2.1), provincial and local authorities constitute the lower levels. Both have a large degree of autonomy over the competences they each exert within their territories. They can devise policy instruments and allocate resources to these. Local authorities in the Flemish Region can, for example, set up their own support schemes for local cultural and leisure time initiatives.
Provincial and local authorities, however, are bound to the general legislation and regulations on the level of the Federal State and the Communities and Regions under which they reside. They are monitored by and receive funding from these higher levels of government (especially the Regions). The Municipal Fund is the most important source of funding for local governments. The Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities (VVSG) acts as an advocacy organisation, expertise provider, and network for local governments in the Flemish Region. There is also an Association of the City and the Municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region (VSGB). The Association of Flemish Provinces (VVP) provides similar services for the Flemish provinces.
Both provinces and local authorities have played a historically important role in establishing a cultural offer in Flanders, if not complementary with higher levels of government (see also 1.3.1 and 1.3.3). A landmark was the creation of cultural centres and libraries throughout Flemish communes. This process took off in the 1960s — with, e.g., policies stimulating local governments to start building cultural centres — and continued in the 1970s and afterwards (see also 1.1). This resulted in a substantial network of local cultural infrastructure (see table 1 in 1.3.2 for figures).
As a consequence of the ‘Internal State Reform’, the role of the lower governments in Flanders with regard to cultural policy has changed significantly. Since 2018, provincial authorities have been divested of most of their cultural competences (such as providing multi-year funding for cultural organisations). The culture budgets of the provinces have been divided among the Flemish government and the local authorities. Provinces still have some limited competences with regard to Immovable Heritage (see 3.1).
Since 2016, local cultural policy has been largely decentralised. Resources for local cultural centres and libraries — which used to be regulated through the Decree on Local Cultural Policy — were integrated into the Municipal Fund. Contrary to the situation under the Decree on Local Cultural Policy (see also 4.1.2), funding through the Municipal Fund is no longer earmarked for specific fields such as culture. At the same time, the conditions for obtaining these funds have changed and the obligation for libraries and cultural centres to report their activities to the Flemish government has ceased (causing a gap in the data). The responsibility for conducting a local cultural policy now fully resides with the local authorities, with the Flemish government taking up a supportive and stimulating role — rather than a steering and controlling role. It is not entirely clear what the effect of these changes has been on local funding for arts and culture, but the overall expenditure on culture and culture-related matters by the lower government levels remains substantial (see 7.1.2).
In 2019, in the wake of these governmental reforms, a Decree on Supralocal Cultural Activities came into effect. Through this new legislative framework, the Flemish government aims to stimulate collaboration between players of different cultural disciplines (or collaboration between players in culture and other spheres), beyond the borders of communes. The Decree offers project funding for cultural organisations, multi-year funding for inter-municipal partnerships involving culture, and a centre of expertise (OP/TIL) aimed at supporting projects and partnerships.
Lastly, we should mention the Flemish Community Commission (VGC). This separate level of government (see 1.2.1) is responsible for competences of the Flemish Community — among them Culture — in the Brussels-Capital Region. Its responsibilities, however, are limited to institutions that are connected with the Flemish Community (such as libraries, community centres, or schools). These responsibilities are in part derived from Flemish Decrees — this way, the VGC acts as if it were a ‘provincial’ or ‘local’ authority for Flanders — but it can also supply in complementary policies — it for example provides funding for arts organisations or artistic projects. The Flemish government monitors the workings of the VGC and has, under certain conditions, the authority to revoke its decisions. The VGC consults official and advisory councils and panels with regard to its competences, such as Culture. These consist of independent professionals.
 Belfius. 2016. ‘Gids: hoe werkt een gemeente?’, 34.
 De Kepper, Miek. 2017. Over Bach, cement en de postbode. 50 jaar lokaal cultuurbeleid. Kalmthout: Pelckmans, 53-92.
 Agentschap Binnenlands Bestuur van de Vlaamse overheid. 2011. Witboek interne staatshervorming, 73.
 In communes with linguistic facilities (see also 2.5.4) bordering Brussels-Capital Region, this reform took place in 2018.
 Note that the figures in table 6 refer to expenses by all lower government levels (i.e. local authorities + provinces) in the whole of Belgium (not only the Flemish Region).
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