Amateur arts and folk culture
In Flemish cultural policy, a broad concept of amateur arts is used. It entails associations as well as individual artists who are active in the field of theatre, dance, music, visual arts and writing. The amateur arts sector in Flanders is supported by the Agency Socio-Cultural Work for Youth and Adults of the Department for Culture, Youth and Media.
The Flemish Parliament Act on the Amateur Arts was introduced on 22 December 2000 and has known more recent changes in 2013. An important aim of the law was to stimulate pluralism and professionalism in the sector. The decree recognises and supports one Flemish amateur organisation per art discipline or sub-discipline. The following nine organisations are funded on the basis of a 5 year policy plan: Vlamo (instrumental music), KUNSTWERK[t] (visual arts), Danspunt (dance), Poppunt (pop music & DJ’s), Centrum voor Beeldexpressie (Photography, film and multimedia), Creatief Schrijven (writing), Koor&Stem (vocal music), Muziekmozaïek (folk & jazz music) and OPENDOEK (theatre). The Forum voor Amateurkunsten (founded in 2006) is an overarching organization serving as support center and advocacy organization, It equally deals with interdisciplinary amateur arts practices.
The Flemish Government recognizes the possibility of future developments in artistic disciplines. Of a project does not fit the framework of the nine regular organizations, there is a possibility to apply for project subsidy.
The mentioned “national amateur arts organisations” provide different forms of support in their different (sub)sectors. However diverse, they all function as information centres for practitioners, providing information via sector-specific websites and publications. Several have opened documentation centres and offer amateur artists and groups the opportunity to enter competitions. Amateur artists can follow master classes in several disciplines and get artistic, organizational and technical guidance (for instance production management, sound engineering, voice training and camera skills). On a regular basis, they initiate international projects on cross-disciplinary initiatives. Via a focused target group policy, the sector enables as many people as possible to participate. Through the nine organisations, amateur artists get opportunities to present and showcase their activities locally and abroad.
Each year in spring, the Forum voor Amateurkunsten coordinates the Week of Amateur Arts (WAK) throughout Flanders and Brussels. WAK encourages stage and exhibition opportunities for amateur artists and is organised in co-operation with the municipalities.
The larger cities in Flanders (Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels) have a specific centre that supports amateur arts. The centre in Brussels, called “Zinnema” (founded in 2007), is also subsidised by the Flemish Government.
Up until today, the provincial governments play an important role in the support of amateur arts. They do not only provide financial support, but organize a.o. projects and contests. Furthermore, the provincial governments offer logistical and promotional support. Due to the ‘Internal State Reform’ of Flanders, the provincial governments will soon lose their competence for cultural policy making (see chapter 4.2.1). It is still unclear what the consequences will be of this shift for the field of amateur arts.
At the end of 2009, the amateur arts sector presented the results of sociological research about the amateur arts in Flanders and Brussels (“Amateurkunsten in beeld gebracht”, “A view on amateur arts“). Some highlights of this research, which combined different surveys (one with a representative sample of the Flemish population, another with members of amateur arts organisations) with additional research:
- 37% of the population in Flanders and Brussels practice art in their leisure time. 27% practise art frequently. For Flanders, this amounts to more than 1.5 million amateur artists from different social and cultural backgrounds.Of the youngsters (14 to 17 years old), 75% practise art in their leisure time;
- 51% of amateur artists practise art in an association, club or band. 34% practise art together with friends. Only 13% is mainly active on an individual basis;
- amateur artists spend an average of 7.61 hours per week on their artistic activities;
- 25% of amateur artists followed courses in the so called “part-time arts education”; 20% followed an arts course elsewhere;
- friends are influential in introducing someone to the arts;
- 1 out of 5 amateur artists spends more than 1 000 EUR yearly on their artistic activities (mainly costs for transport, materials and membership fees);
- the respondents mainly associate the “amateur arts” with “enthusiasm” and “creativity”. Most of the people say that they practise arts to relax or to develop themselves; and
- people who practise arts are much more active as “receptive cultural participants”. They visit museums and concerts more frequently… and read more than those who do not practise arts. Amateur artists are even more into sports than the non-amateur artists. Amateur artists are less individualistic, and have more solidarity than those who do not practise arts.
French-speaking Community of Belgium
Amateur arts are essentially supported via the federations which act as umbrellas for local groups at either Community or Provincial level. These federations exist mainly in the field of music: musical societies such as brass bands, choirs, etc.; and in folklore: specifically, folk dancing; in the theatre and dialect theatre and in photography.
These federations represent a very large number of local associations which typically engage in their artistic practice and contribute towards local cultural life.
Centres of expression and creativity (180)
Centres of expression and creativity are local associations which engage in amateur artistic practices based around one or more artistic disciplines with a view to a project embedded in the social environment and with strong connections to the participants’ cultural and social concerns. These projects are generally picked up by artists and lead to a tangible public result.
We are currently witnessing the emergence of new forms of organisation (networks) and new artistic practices being explored by non-professional people or groups, such as writing workshops and urban cultural practices.
One particularly significant example of the development of an urban leadership project being managed artistically and involving citizen and creative participation is the Zinneke parade, a biennial event in Brussels featuring a procession of over 1 000 participants and attended by over 200 000 people.
Around 200 amateur arts associations are active in the areas of music, singing, theatre and dance. Several creative workshops are also held. Approximately 50 clubs are devoted to maintaining traditions, mainly in the form of carnival celebrations.
Cultural houses and community cultural clubs
Cultural and community centres
The Flemish government policy regarding cultural and community centres was traditionally part of the Local Culture Policy Decree (see chapter 4.2.1). The key point in this Decree is the clustering of cultural actors in the community under one policy umbrella: libraries, cultural centres and local initiatives. Together they should set the course of cultural life in the community. The cultural centres recognized under the Local Culture Policy Decree had three main tasks: spreading culture, community development and promoting cultural participation. However, as we indicated in chapter 5.2, there is a major shift in the relation between the Flemish Community and the culture and community centres, granting more autonomy to the municipalities. As of 2016, the Local Culture Policy Decree does not serve anymore as the policy framework for the cultural centers, hence the Flemish Government seizes to formulate the main objectives of the 70+ centers spread all over Flanders. Both the policy frameworks and the budgets will now solely be defined by the local governments. Before this transition, approximately (and on average) one fifth of the budget of the cultural centres is provided by the Flemish community and 50-60% by local governments.
Socio-cultural adult work
Socio-cultural work has a strong tradition in Flanders and has grown historically from several cultural and social emancipation movements with an ideological background. It has played an important role in the Flemish cultural movement, which has led to cultural autonomy since the 1970s.
The work of the socio-cultural organisations that rely on state subsidies in Flanders can, up to 2017, be divided into four types: associations, popular colleges, national training institutions and movements. They are controlled by law, specifically by the Decree of 4 April 2003 (which has been changed several times, the latest on 23 December 2010). Together they account for around 250 000 volunteers and around 2 000 professionals in Flanders and Brussels.
Associations are networks of local divisions or groups. There are more than 50 socio-cultural associations active in Flanders of all shapes and sizes. Together, they have around 14 000 local divisions and almost 2 million members. 13 organisations are federations of migrant organisations.
The 13 Popular Colleges (or Vormingplus centers), each working in their own region, organise short or longer courses for adults in diverse themes, but mostly social and cultural.
Also the 24 National Training Institutions offer education for adults, but they focus on a specific domain (nature and environment, care, personality and relationships etc.) or a specific target group (physically disabled people, employees etc.) and operate for the whole of Flanders.
Currently, there are 35 movements active in Flanders, specialising in one or more themes, such as peace, active citizenship, and mobility, silence, biomedical developments… operating nation-wide.
In 2017 a new Decree on Socio-Cultural Work for Adults was voted (see chapter 4.2.1). This law offers a combination of multi-annual structural funding and project subsidies, a qualitative evaluation procedure and a functional approach.
Hence, the aforementioned traditional four categories and definitions make way for a more flexible functional approach. Organisations choose in their applications for one or more of the following functions: culture function, learning function, community function and societal movement function.
French-speaking Community of Belgium
Locally and in 2013, the French-speaking Community of Belgium subsidises the following within the framework of various types of legislation:
- 103 local cultural centres (multidisciplinary cultural and artistic activities),
- 12 regional cultural centres,
- 168 libraries,
- 347 youth associations,
- 156 centres of expression and creativity,
- 689 continuing education associations (citizen education and participation).
Some local continuing education associations basically concentrate on intercultural issues and audiences of foreign origin. Many youth centres and cultural centres work regularly with intercultural audiences reflecting the cultural diversity of the population.
15% of the budget of the Culture General Directorate is dedicated to local institutions and associations.
The Regions, Provinces and Municipalities also contribute towards supporting these associations or institutions.
Interestingly, a 2010 study into the associative sector by the Fondation Roi Baudouin revealed that cultural associations were the ones hardest hit by the crisis, suffering a significant decrease in public aid.
The government of the German-speaking Community
recognises two regional cultural centres which receive greater financial
support than the local centres, libraries and creative workshops.
 L’impact de la crise financière sur les associations, IPSOS, Fondation Roi Baudouin, June 2010.