Public debate in Flanders and Brussels about the role of arts and culture in society usually occurs at moments when public support for arts and culture is called into question. Examples are budget cuts in funding for culture (see 7.1.3), concerns about the role of arts and culture in the curriculum of schools (see 5.2), or the allocation of support measures in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Diverse arguments (economic, aesthetic, emancipatory, bildung-related, etc.) are used to make the case for support.
A number of publicly funded surveys have looked into the different values and roles that arts and culture can assume in a (domain of) society. Examples from recent years include the surveys on the economic impact of cultural and creative industries (see 3.5.1; the last edition was published in 2019) and the report De waarde van cultuur (“The Value of Culture”, 2014). The latter involved an interdisciplinary team of researchers who explored the existing research on the different values of arts and culture. The report concluded that the most important value of culture is its role in giving meaning to people’s lives and their position in society. It also concluded, however, that evidence-based research on exactly this value was missing. The researchers also wrote about the political implications of this value: culture functions as a ‘common’, and a dynamic and democratic community needs this shared and accessible space, in which meanings can be exchanged, can be discussed, and can lead to dissensus. The report furthermore assessed and summarized the existing evidence on the role of arts and culture in cognitive development, mental and physical health, economic growth, and social cohesion.
Ministers of Culture in Flanders have had eyes for the different values arts and culture can assume, which have underpinned their various strategies for support. Bert Anciaux’s (2004-2009) interest in culture as a driver for community building, for example, can be linked to his policy initiatives on interculturalisation (see 2.5.1). Another example is the particular attention Joke Schauvliege (2009-2014) and Sven Gatz (2014-2019) had for the economic value of arts and culture, which is demonstrated by the measures for entrepreneurship and relationships between public and private partners (see 7.3). In policy statements by current minister Jan Jambon (2019-2024), we again see specific attention for arts and culture as drivers for community-building and social cohesion (see also 2.6).
 Gielen, Pascal, Sophie Elkhuizen, Quirijn Van den Hoogen, Thijs Lijster, and Hanka Otte. 2014. ‘De waarde van cultuur’. Brussel: Onderzoekscentrum Arts in Society (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen), 120-121.