In the early 2000’s CultuurNet Vlaanderen was founded as an organization specializing in cultural marketing and communication. CultuurNet informs and sets up campaigns to stimulate participation to “make (more) people (more) enthusiastic for (more) culture.” It has a specific focus on families and children through (a.o.) the ‘Vlieg’ label and collaborations with Canon Cultuurcel and the Cultuurkuur program. The UiT database is the heart of CultuurNet. It is the central hub where all information on leisure activities in Flanders is entered, gathered and redistributed. In 2016, around 23 000 organizers entered more than 130 000 activities. This information is not only accessible through the calendars of local governments, but also through the website UiTinVlaanderen.be. The UiT database is also a source of information for newspapers, magazines and (websites of) Flemish television channels. In total, more than 500 external channels use the UiT database on a daily basis for the publication of their listings.
Encouraging access to cultural development for everyone is a major issue in the government of Flanders coalition agreement 2014-2019. The UiTPAS (coordinated by CultuurNet Vlaanderen) combines a benefits programme for everyone with financial discounts for people with low or fixed incomes. Holders of an UiTPAS can earn points by participating in leisure activities and exchange them for benefits. People with low or fixed incomes are entitled to a UiTPAS at a reduced price. That makes it easier for them to take part in leisure activities, without being stigmatized. An important link is made between this aspiration and the pursuit of an intercultural society (see chapter 2.6).
Recently, Cultuurnet Vlaanderen merged with another organization Cultureel Jongeren Paspoort to become ‘Publiq’.
Another major link has been made to the field of “socio-artistic practice”, which has become a specific point of attention. In this context, “socio-artistic work” is conceptualised as process-like-activities which focus both on the artistic aspect and the involvement of the participants. Since 2006, project subsidies have been replaced by transversal support and financing. Socio-artistic practice offers possibilities for the reinforcement of city and communal patterns of cohabitation. (Since 2017, the term ‘socio-artistic practice’ is no longer used in the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts: these are now arts organisations who take up the function: participation’).
There are several types of support within the framework of the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts. Artistic organisations can either opt to take on participative activities as a major element in their overall activities, and calculate this in their subsidy request, or they can file for an additional project subsidy. Organisations specifically targeted towards socio-artistic activities received structural subsidies for a period of 5 years (2017-2021).
A Participation Decree entered into force in January 2008 and is currently being evaluated. It provides a policy framework for explicit participation initiatives to facilitate access to culture, aimed at:
- people in poverty;
- disabled people;
- people with an ethnic-cultural diversified background; and
- families with children.
This Decree offers:
- policy instruments to stimulate the participation of the various groups;
- subsidies for projects that encourage participation. This particularly concerns initiatives related to socio-cultural work, communication, circulation and dissemination of artworks, financial obstacles, and physical access. Longitudinal scientific research on cultural participation is also important for the policy; and
- grants for large scale cultural events.
The organisation Dēmos is a knowledge centre active in the Participation Decree. It was founded as “Kunst en Democratie” (Art and Democracy) in the beginning of the 1990s as a knowledge centre paying attention to social topics such as the battle against extremism, racism and discrimination, the role of culture and sport in situations of exclusion and the responsibility of artists in our democracy. Their focus is on renewing and deepening the participation of disadvantaged groups in culture, youth and sport.
The refugee crisis of 2015 urged also the cultural sector to respond: e.g. organising meetings with locals, trips to museums and sports clubs. New approaches and collaborations were developed to reach out: performances, concerts, exhibitions and debates featuring refugee artists.
French-speaking Community of Belgium
Cultural democracy is one of the key objectives across the cultural policies in the French-speaking Community of Belgium. Provisions on access conditions for all audiences are laid out in the programme contracts for all artistic sectors and for the majority of the institutions receiving subsidies. These conditions relate particularly to those sectors of the public who are suffering socio-economic difficulties, young people and the elderly. Many institutions and associations run specific strategies to provide information and raise awareness among these audiences by means of events and collaborations with associations involved with these sectors of the public.
One association plays a particularly exemplary role in this area. This is the association ‘article 27’, which takes its name from Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: ‘Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts (…) its benefits’. In a short space of time, this association has succeeded in creating and coordinating an extensive system right across the French-speaking Community of Belgium of offering free or cut-price show seats to people experiencing economic difficulties. The association is currently looking at extending the offer to forms of cultural and artistic activities other than shows.
The cultural associations also play other roles, via their objectives: raising awareness among the general public of issues in society, delivering cultural and artistic productions, disseminating culture, planning training courses, workshops and artistic and creative activities, the collective expression of issues in society, defending and publicising minority rights, events in public spaces, and getting cultural issues on the agenda in public and political debates.
It should be noted that the development of multimedia and the digital revolution led in 2013 to the reorganisation of the media libraries, which are public spaces loaning out sound recordings and audio-visual material in hard copy – borrowings having dropped by 55% in 10 years – into ‘Culture Points’, which are now transverse spaces promoting access to culture and cultural participation for all audiences. These are actually local cultural outlets.
In certain sectors, such as the cultural centres, the youth cultural organisations, the organisations involved with continuing education and cultural leisure, the centres of expression and creativity and the youth centres, the essential focus is on participation and active involvement of citizens in cultural projects.
The conditions for subsidies to these associations include the critical analysis of society, the stimulation of democratic and collective initiatives, the development of active citizenship and the exercise of social, cultural, environmental and economic rights.