In Flanders heritage is often divided, for administrative and political purposes, into the fields of ‘Immovable’ and ‘Cultural Heritage’. Immovable heritage contains monuments, landscapes and archaeological sites. Within the field of cultural heritage, there is a subdivision into two subject areas: moveable cultural heritage (paintings, documents, archives …) and intangible cultural heritage. The “UNESCO-Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage” (2003) defines the intangible cultural heritage as the practices, representations, expressions, as well as the knowledge and skills (including instruments, objects, artefacts, cultural spaces), that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage.
At a Flemish level, two different authorities are competent for cultural and immovable heritage policy. The Flemish Region and the Brussels-Capital Region are responsible for monuments, landscapes and archaeological. On January 1st 2015 a new general immovable heritage decree, bundling and updating all the legislation concerning the built heritage, landscapes and archaeology, has entered into force. This new law reaffirms certain principles already included in the older legislation (e.g. the development of heritage inventories, the listing of heritage, the system of financial support …), updates them and strengthens their effectiveness (e.g. certain adaptations to the listing procedure …), concretizes some concepts (e.g. the principle of subsidiarity, with larger responsibilities for communities …) and introduces new ones (e.g. heritage orientation plans for broader policy-development …). The main umbrella organisation in the field of immovable heritage is Herita, which also organises the annual “Open Monument Days”.
The Flemish Community is responsible for movable and intangible cultural heritage. It recognizes an organization that supports the implementation of its cultural heritage policy: “FARO. Flemish interface centre for cultural heritage”.FARO’s aim is to strengthen and support the cultural heritage field in Flanders (museums, archives, heritage libraries, heritage cells, governments, voluntary associations… ). FARO develops also communication and outreach initiatives for the broader public, like the yearly Heritage Day (Erfgoeddag).
During the past decades, also the local governments and the five provinces played a significant role in the field of cultural heritage. Under the umbrella of “complementary policy” the local, provincial and Flemish governments worked together and made mutual arrangements. In the second decade of the 21st century, the Flemish government intended a simplification of the administrative landscape. On the one hand the municipalities were given more competences and responsibilities. On the other hand, the provinces were drastically reformed. As of January 1, 2018, they have lost all of their so called ‘person-tied competences’ (such as culture and cultural heritage, wellbeing, sports…). These competences were transferred to the Flemish or the local level. This reform had a broad impact on the cultural sector: dozens of institutions and hundreds of provincial officials were transferred either to the Flemish Community or to the municipal level. Most of the provincial subsidy regulations were taken over by the Flemish Community, which will aim to produce a new framework policy for these regulations by 2020.
French-speaking Community of Belgium
Responsibilities for heritage are shared between the Regions (Wallonia and Brussels-Capital) and the French-speaking Community of Belgium. The Regions have competence for the built heritage, while the French-speaking Community of Belgium covers movable cultural heritage: the protection of movable cultural heritage; the protection of oral and non-material heritage; museums; private archive centres; history and archaeology circles and clubs; ethnology; heraldry; and the management of the French-speaking Community of Belgium’s collection of heritage art items, which runs to some 50,000 items. The basic rationale behind the transfer of competences in terms of built heritage from the French-speaking Community of Belgium to the Brussels and Walloon Regions is the concern to deliver better preservation for the heritage by bringing it under the umbrella of town and country planning.
The French-speaking Community of Belgium’s policy on heritage is largely focused on museums: aside from the Royal Museum at Mariemont and the Muséobus, which fall entirely under the French-speaking Community of Belgium, the French-speaking Community of Belgium also subsidises about 80 museums, including ten or so organised jointly with various public authorities, but above all, museums organised by other public authorities or by subsidised associations.
Since 2013, free entry to museums in the French-speaking Community of Belgium has been encouraged via a decree by the French-speaking Community of Belgium designed to facilitate public access. There are about a hundred museums today offering free entry on the 1st Sunday of every month. An association (artsetpublics.be) is tasked with providing full information about this free entry scheme and the museums applying it. While the impact of these measures on museum footfall depends on a number of different factors, it does show that this is an incentive that genuinely is promoting access to these institutions. In addition, 12 museums were still offering free access in 2014 for school parties and youth associations.
One of the difficulties experienced in Belgium is the fragmentation of responsibilities, in particular in terms of copyright. The communities have little control over the federal measures adopted pursuant to European legislation. What the French and Flemish communities want is to allocate the funds collected to help creation. The actual nuts and bolts of how this is done still need to be negotiated at the level of the Federal government.
The German-speaking Community is responsible for intangible cultural heritage, moveable cultural heritage, monument and countryside preservation and the protection of monumental sites. It supports folklore activities, the activities undertaken by museums and the publication of historical literature; it subsidises restoration work to moveable cultural heritage and monuments and runs an archaeological department.
In participation with the Walloon Region, the German-speaking Community participates in the European Heritage Days. Other initiatives in the field of cultural heritage are also carried out in co-operation with neighbouring regions (B, D).
Future efforts are directed at logging the entire stock of intangible heritage, moveable cultural heritage of the museums and churches, audiovisual heritage, listed buildings, monuments and the countryside.
For more information, see
European Heritage Network: Country profile Belgium