2. Current cultural affairs
Last update: November, 2020
A number of issues have been the subject of debate in and on the cultural field in Flanders and Brussels in the past years. General issues include the socio-economic position of artists and cultural workers (see 2.3), the impact of digitization on the workings of the arts and cultural sector (see 2.4), the position of people with culturally diverse background in the field of culture (see 2.5.1), gender inequality and harassment (see 2.5.5), equal access to culture (see 2.5.1, 2.5.6, and 2.6), questions of ecological sustainability (see 2.8), and questions of funding for arts and culture (see 2.3, 2.7, and 2.9). It should be noted that certain topics receive more or different attention in the different sectors within the cultural field. The issues at stake are discussed throughout section 2, as well as the (varying) interest and initiatives of cultural policy makers with regard to these topics.
Issues that are more specifically related to the workings of particular sectors within the cultural field are discussed throughout section 3.
Last update: November, 2020
The Belgian Constitution guarantees a number of fundamental rights for Belgian citizens, some of which are relevant in the light of the discussions in the following sections (see also 4.1.1). These include:
- All citizens are equal, which comprises the equality between men and women (art. 10). Discrimination is prohibited (art. 11).
- The freedom of expression (art. 19) and the freedom of press. Censorship is prohibited (art. 25).
- The right to an existence worthy of human dignity (art. 23), which explicitly includes the right to fair working conditions (1°) and the right to cultural development (5°).
- The freedom of education (art. 24).
- The freedom of language use (art. 30).
Cultural policy (see 1.1 and 4.2) and educational policy (see 2.5.1 and 5.1) are in the first place competences of the Communities (see also art. 127 and 130 of the Constitution). Language policies have been subject to a long history of reform, which has led to separate language areas with separate regulations that further stipulate language usage (see 2.5.4 and 4.1.8). Equal opportunities policies are devised on different government levels (see 2.5.1, 2.5.5, 2.5.6, and 2.6). The article of the Constitution on non-discrimination (art. 11) is the basis of the Culture Pact (see 4.1.2).
Last update: November, 2020
The socio-economic position of artists — and by proxy, of cultural professionals in similar working conditions — has been a prominent subject of debate in the cultural field in Flanders and Brussels over the past years (and will probably continue to be so in the coming years, as the COVID-19 crisis reinvigorated the debate). Extensive research — conducted with government support — has given insight into the working conditions of artists in Flanders and Brussels. Their situation is often one of multiple job holding, a combination of different social security schemes, informal and short-term labour agreements, and wages that are lower than the average — conditions that are still very different from those of the majority of working people in Belgium.
The role of organisations and governments in creating these conditions is often called into question. Criticism towards the government is recurrently directed at the budget for project funding for artists or the regulations for artists in the social security framework. With regard to cultural organisations, the question of applying fair practices is raised — which include fair payment, decent working time, transparency, sustainable practices etc. The debate on fair practices intersects with other issues at stake, as some voices point out that the precarious nature of the described working conditions is deepened by (e.g.) gender inequality (see 2.5.5) and structural racism (see 2.5.1; this has led to criticism of silencing and (implicit) censorship of non-white artistic voices). In the wake of these debates, a number of charters, model agreements, and initiatives to raise awareness of fair practices were launched from within the cultural sector itself. Recent examples include Juist is Juist, the Fair Arts Almanac, or Engagement.
This takes place within a context of a cultural policy that has rather provided outlines than specific rules on how to implement fair practices. Since its reform in 2013, the Arts Decree mentions the application of collective labour agreements (art. 51; see 4.1.5) and “attention to a correct remuneration for artists” (art. 23 and 28) as prerequisites for receiving funding. It does not, however, provide a detailed definition of “correct remuneration”. Former minister of Culture Sven Gatz (2014-2019) put “strengthening the socio-economic position of artists” as a priority in his arts policy and would see to it that funded organisations sufficiently support artists. At the same time, he stated that correct remuneration of artists is a nuanced story and an ambition (“betrachting”) for organisations.
Players in the cultural field are seen by policy makers as active partners in achieving fair practices. In preparing his Action Plan against harassment and abuse in the cultural field and media (see 2.5.5.), Gatz organised round-table discussions with associations, intermediary organisations, and labour unions from the cultural field. Current minister Jan Jambon (2019-2024) mentions cooperation with cultural players and initiatives in his Strategic Vision Statement on the Arts. In his goal of ameliorating the socio-economic position of artists, for example, he wishes to investigate if guidelines on fair practices provided by Juist is Juist could be adapted for the criteria for funding. Jambon’s vision hints at a more specified set of rules for implementing fair practices than was previously the case. Another example of this is the plan of devising a matrix for remunerating visual artists.
Jambon also announced to enhance support schemes for artists (in contrast to the cuts at the beginning of his term, see 7.1.3). Budgets for project funding and grants in the arts have fluctuated from year to year — with lower budgets causing protest among arts professionals. The minister now wishes to reserve a specific share of the government expenditure on the arts for project funding and grants. The largest part of the arts budget goes to multi-year funding for organisations. Among these, the seven major art institutions (‘kunstinstellingen’) receive a substantial part – which has steadily increased over the years, compared to the budget for other organisations (see 1.3.3). Jambon plans to provide some of the latter the opportunity to become a ‘core institution’ (‘kerninstelling’), a new category of funding, similar to the existing major art institutions (see also 2.9). This has led to concern among arts professionals that (if the overall budget for the arts will not rise) the available funding for other organisations will shrink considerably. The future core institutions will also sign a management agreement with the Flemish government. This system is already in place for the major art institutions and implies that these organisations can receive official assignments from the government. This means a larger part of the publicly funded arts field (which will also represent a substantial part of the overall budget for the arts) will come into a more direct relationship with their funding government.
The regulations for artists in the social security framework (the ‘kunstenaarsstatuut’, see 4.1.3) are more than once referred to in vision statements by ministers of Culture as being important. These regulations, however, are Federal policy matters. If a Flemish minister of Culture wishes to impact these regulations, this would require — as Jambon proposed in his policy memorandum — negotiation with the Federal Government (see also 1.2.6).
 For an overview, see Hesters, Delphine. 2019. D.I.T. (Do It Together). The position of the artist in today’s art world. Kunstenpocket 3. Brussel: Kunstenpunt; Kunstenpunt, ed. 2019. Landschapstekening Kunsten: Ontwikkelingsperspectieven voor de kunsten anno 2019. Brussel: Kunstenpunt, 149-165.
 Notably Siongers, Jessy, Astrid Van Steen, and John Lievens. 2016. Loont passie? Een onderzoek naar de sociaaleconomische positie van professionele kunstenaars in Vlaanderen. Ghent University; Siongers, Jessy, Mart Willekens, Lucas Pissens, and John Lievens. 2018. Wie heeft het gemaakt? Een onderzoek naar de sociaaleconomische positie van architecten en designers in Vlaanderen. Ghent University.
 Gatz, Sven. 2015. ‘Strategische Visienota Kunsten. Naar een dynamisch, divers en slagkrachtig kunstenlandschap in Vlaanderen’, 33-35.
 Gatz, Sven. 2018. ‘Actieplan Grensoverschrijdend gedrag in de cultuur en audiovisuele sector’. Departement Cultuur, Jeugd en Media van de Vlaamse overheid, 3-4.
 E.g. Anciaux, Bert. 2004. ‘Beleidsnota Cultuur 2004-2009’, 9; Gatz, Sven. 2014. ‘Beleidsnota 2014-2019. Cultuur’, 21; —. 2015. ‘Strategische Visienota Kunsten. Naar een dynamisch, divers en slagkrachtig kunstenlandschap in Vlaanderen’, 34.
Last update: November, 2020
Digitisation has had a profound impact on the functioning of the cultural field in Flanders and Brussels. It has especially received attention in relation to sectors where new technologies have disrupted the traditional functioning of value chains, such as the music and the audiovisual sector (see resp. 3.5.3 and 3.5.4). When summarising the debate on digitisation and cultural sectors, we can roughly discern the following issues:
- An intensifying attention economy: the creation and dissemination of culture has been drastically democratized thanks to the possibilities of digital technologies. This ensures that many providers of culture are active in the digital domain, each demanding attention for their cultural practice.
- A value gap between the providers of digital technologies and the many (cultural) players who use them. Those providers (such as big tech companies) can generate large revenues through the long tail of individual actions in the digital domain (revenues that do not flow proportionally to those cultural players) and develop into power factors with a problematic relationship to existing ethical and legal frameworks.
- Inequality in digital skills: the way in which cultural practices accumulate meaning and significance can strongly depend on the extent to which digital technologies are used to create and disseminate those cultural practices. Building digital skills is therefore an important part of the workings and professionalization of players in the cultural field.
- (A lack of) digital maturity: the choice for digital technology is not always easy and innocent in a context where, on the one hand, there is an almost unlimited supply of digital technology that promises solutions to all kinds of problems and, on the other hand, technological companies have created monopolies of dubious size. A widely supported vision of how such choices can be deliberately made, is still largely lacking in the cultural field.
Digitisation is a recurring topic in policy statements of consecutive ministers of Culture. In previous terms, Joke Schauvliege (2009-2014) and Sven Gatz (2014-209) have devoted strategic policy goals to this subject. Gatz also published a vision memorandum on “cultural policy in the digital era” (2018). Both Schauvliege and Gatz advocated a thorough digitisation of cultural sectors and linked them with goals such as achieving innovation, conserving cultural heritage, and enhancing participation to the cultural offer. These statements show a concern with the intensifying attention economy and the issue of digital skills. In stressing the importance of digital transformation and innovation, however, they largely ignored the issues of digital maturity and the value gap between tech players and the cultural field.
Similar to his predecessors, current minister Jan Jambon (2019-2024) — who is also minister of ICT — stresses the need for digital transformation and innovation. Intermediary organisations memoo, Cultuurconnect, and publiq — all funded by the Flemish government — are chosen as partners in implementing this.
Memoo supports the digital archive operations of cultural, media and government organisations (e.g. by digitizing and managing archive content and sharing expertise on this subject; see also 3.1) and is the recent merger of three non-profit organisations (Lukas, PACKED, and VIAA) that each provided different digital services to the cultural field.
The services, workshops, research projects, and network of Cultuurconnect are focused on tackling the digital challenges of public libraries, culture centres, and community centres. One of their projects is the development of a single digital library system throughout Flanders (which started under Gatz, see also 3.2). The organisation was formed in 2016 through the merging of Bibnet and Locus. Whereas the latter provided support for local cultural policy in general, the focus of Cultuurconnect is primarily restricted to digital issues.
Publiq aims to stimulate participation to cultural and other leisure time activities through communication, marketing and information services. Their services include an online database for announcing events and managing electronic event passes (see also 6.1). Publiq is the merger of the former Cultuurnet Vlaanderen and CJP (Cultural Youth Passport).
 For a summary of the debate on digitisation and the arts in Flanders and Brussels, see Kunstenpunt, ed. 2019. Landschapstekening Kunsten: Ontwikkelingsperspectieven voor de kunsten anno 2019. Brussel: Kunstenpunt, 133-137.
Last update: November, 2020
In 2016, one out of five inhabitants of the Flemish Region is of ‘foreign’ origin. In the Brussels-Capital Region, this amounts to seven out of ten. In the Flemish Region, the foreign origin lies in most cases (23%) in one of the neighbouring countries. EU-citizens make up 45% of inhabitants of foreign origin. In the Brussels-Capital Region, people with roots in another EU country represent 40%. When looking at the countries of origin, links can be made with historical and recent labour migration (e.g. Italy, Morocco, Turkey, Poland, Romania), Brussels as capital of Europe and as headquarters of NATO (attracting expats from the EU and the rest of the world), and Belgium’s colonialism (Congo, Burundi, Rwanda).
These statistics indicate that society in Flanders and Brussels is very culturally diverse. Debates on topics such as structural racism — recently reinvigorated by cases of police brutality in Belgium and the international Black Lives Matter movement —, the role of Belgians and Flemings in colonial repression and its repercussions — especially in light of the sixtieth anniversary of the independence of the former Belgian Colony that gave birth to the Democratic Republic of the Congo —, or migration — elections in 2019 were (again) a success for the radical right — have demonstrated that the position of people with culturally diverse backgrounds in Flemish society is a far from uncontested matter. Cultural affairs are central to these debates, as is shown by, for example, the controversies surrounding the ubiquitous public monuments of Leopold II, museums with collections of looted art (see 3.1), or a number of recent books, documentaries, and theatre plays on the colonial history of Belgium.
Equal opportunities policies in Belgium (see also 2.5.5, 2.5.6, and 2.6) include strategies towards equality for citizens with a culturally diverse background. (Coordinated) actions are taken from within different levels and areas, including the Flemish policy field of Equal Opportunities. In the area of Culture, ministers have recurrently devised policies on the related topic of interculturalisation (‘interculturaliseren’). These have focused on making participation, personnel, and programming more culturally diverse. Bert Anciaux (2004-2009) launched an Action Plan for interculturalisation in Culture, Youth, and Sport (2006) with a top-down approach that made use of quotas and the earmarking of resources. During Anciaux’s term, the Participation Decree also came into effect (see 6.1). By contrast, Joke Schauvliege (2009-2014) took a bottom-up approach by encouraging cultural organisations to sign a declaration of commitment to cultural diversity. In 2013, cultural diversity was embedded in the Arts Decree as criterion for funding (see esp. art. 28 and 88) — something which was also applied in other cultural decrees. Successor Sven Gatz (2014-2019) acknowledged the importance of cultural diversity in his policy memorandum. No specific policy frameworks were developed: for Gatz, attention for people with a culturally diverse background was rather a principle that permeated different policy matters.
A number of (funded) organisations in the field of Culture devise projects on intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity in participation, personnel, and programming. These include Dēmos (see 6.1), the Minority Forum — who will change their vision and name in 2021 —, socio-cultural organisations working on topics related to social and cultural diversity (see 6.4), the centres of expertise (see 7.2.1), and the funds for subsistence security (see 7.2.2).
There are few numbers available on the diversity of the labour force and public of arts and culture in Flanders and Brussels. However, a range of voices have uttered critiques of both being predominantly white and definitely not free of (structural) racism. One of the issues in the debate centres around the notion of ‘interculturalisation’ and the (outcome of the) strategies used to achieve it. Critics point out that interculturalisation often means that people with a culturally diverse background are viewed as ‘the Other’, for whom a special place in the regular workings of the sector is reserved, but who is at the same time recuperated in a dominant discourse, pigeonholed, and silenced. The (predominantly white) power structures that existed before remain unchallenged. In this context, the notion of ‘decolonisation’ is now frequently used, as a way to challenge the dominant narrative and denote that power and resources should be righteously shared with or ceded to artists and cultural workers with a culturally diverse background.
“Meerstemmigheid” (‘multivocality’) is another notion that has popped up in the debate. It calls for a dominant (white) cultural discourse to be replaced by a multitude of voices being represented. “Meerstemmigheid” is also a topic in the Strategic Vision Statement of minister Jan Jambon (2019-2024), which stated that “all voices should be heard, […] also those deemed unacceptable”. Though applicable to the debate on diversity and decolonisation, cultural policy documents of the current term are — in contrast to previous terms — largely devoid of direct references to these subjects.
Some recent discussions have revealed frictions in the relation between the (cultural) policy makers in power and the topic of cultural diversity. One example is the controversy surrounding the Carnival of Aalst, an annual satirical carnival parade in the city of Aalst that was removed from the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The UNESCO Secretariat received complaints on an act of a carnival group, which was considered anti-Semitic, and judged by UNESCO as ‘crossing the red line’. After drafting a decision for removal, the Secretariat received an official announcement from Belgium — on the initiative of the City of Aalst (whose mayor is a political compatriot of Jambon) — with the wish to withdraw the carnival parade from the List itself. They stated that Aalst carnival prefers to retain their freedom of expression over having an UNESCO listing.
Another example of recent frictions between policy makers and cultural workers concerns the funding of socio-cultural organisations. Following Jambon’s policy memorandum on Culture, a proposal was handed in for changing the Decree that arranges the support schemes for these organisations. The change implied that organisations that “withdraw in ethnic-cultural identity” (“terugplooien op etnisch-culturele identiteit”) could no longer be eligible for funding. Though no specific names were mentioned, some organisations felt targeted and the socio-cultural sector and opposition parties protested against the proposed changes and the short period in which these were to be implemented. This event led to a special procedure via the Federal Parliament. The proposal was eventually adopted, but the implementation will take longer than first envisioned.
 Noppe, Jo, Myriam Vanweddingen, Gerlinde Doyen, Karen Stuyck, Yinte Feys, and Philippe Buysschaert. 2018. ‘Migratie- en integratiemonitor 2018’. Brussel: Agentschap Binnenlands Bestuur van de Vlaamse Overheid/Statistiek Vlaanderen, 131-148. “Persons of foreign origin” here denotes people with a non-Belgian nationality, Belgians born abroad, and Belgians with one or more parents with foreign birth nationality. Note that third generation descendants of people with foreign origin are not included.
 See, for example, Aziz, Rachida. 2017. Niemand zal hier slapen vannacht. Berchem: EPO; and Lamrabet, Rachida. 2017. Zwijg, allochtoon! Berchem: EPO. For an overview of research and debate on cultural diversity in the arts in Flanders and Brussels, see: Kunstenpunt, ed. 2019. Landschapstekening Kunsten: Ontwikkelingsperspectieven voor de kunsten anno 2019. Brussel: Kunstenpunt, 127-133.
 See, for example, the issue of cultural magazine Rekto:Verso on “Dekolonisering”; the brochure of Dēmos on “resdistributing power”; or the writings of Joachim Ben Yakoub (e.g. Ben Yakoub, Joachim, and Wouter Hillaert. 2018. ‘(Witte) instellingen: van congolisering naar dekolonisering’. rektoverso.be. 23 March 2018).
Last update: November, 2020
Both culture and education are competences of the Flemish Community, but each resides under a different policy area and government department (see 5.1). Compulsory education is subsumed under the Ministry of Education and Training and is subject to attainment targets, which constitute a binding framework on what to teach. These attainment goals are currently in a process of reform, but in both the old and new versions there is attention for social and cultural diversity and intercultural competences. These are aimed at facilitating the recognition and appreciation of (cultural) diversity and at learning how to live together and cooperate within a democratic society. Although they constitute a binding framework, attainment goals still offer schools a large degree of freedom. As a result, the ways in which the topic of social and cultural diversity is implemented in the curriculum can vary among schools.
The Ministry of Education offers training and information sessions for school teams on inclusion and diversity. Schools can also apply for project support by Kruit, an expertise organisation on global citizenship education (funded within the federal policy field of Development Cooperation). Social and cultural diversity can also be the topic of cultural education projects (in which, for example, schools collaborate with cultural organisations, see 5.2).
Attention for diversity is not limited to the curriculum: there are also policies aimed at achieving equal access to schooling for pupils in different socio-economic situations (the ‘GOK’-policies). Next to these, pupils that have specific needs related to disabilities can take courses in a dedicated network of schools (the special educational needs education). Since 2017, these pupils have the right to register in ‘regular’ schools. The legal framework that arranges these rights and the consequent support for schools (the ‘M-Decree’) is currently being revised. It should be noted that Dutch is the compulsory language for teaching most courses in schools (see 2.5.4). The Flemish education system is primarily monolingual, with special programmes for Dutch language acquisition (such as the reception classes for non-Dutch speaking newcomers or ‘OKAN’).
Despite the attention for social and cultural diversity in the curriculum and in regulations on access to education, research has shown that socio-economic and ethnic inequality is an issue in the Flemish education system, with high performance gaps between students, tightly linked to one’s background. Researchers have also criticised the eurocentrist character of history education in practice. In light of the latter, academics have spoken out against the plan of the Flemish government of introducing a Flemish canon in education and integration policies, which is argued to enforce the eurocentric approach.
 Van Nieuwenhuyse, Karel, and Marjolein Wilke. 2020. ‘History education in Belgium/ Flanders since 1945 between a national and a global scope: whose past, what for, and for whom?’ Bulletin du CREAS 7: 65–76.
 The idea of introducing a canon is mentioned, among others, in the coalition agreement of the current Flemish government (Vlaamse Regering. 2019. ‘Regeerakkoord 2019-2024’, 17, 21, 25-26, 107) and in the policy memorandum of minister of Culture Jan Jambon (—. 2019. ‘Beleidsnota Cultuur 2019-2024’, 15). For comments by historians and other academics on the idea and use of a canon, see e.g. this open letter. For a defence from the side of policy makers, see here.
Last update: November, 2020
In Belgium, Media is a competence of the Communities, with each having its own legal framework for media and its own media regulator. In the Flemish Community, Media is a separate policy field from Culture, of which Benjamin Dalle (2019-2024) is the sitting minister for Flanders (in the previous term, Sven Gatz was both minister of Culture and Media).
The independent Flemish Regulator of the Media monitors media concentration, but does not have the authority to take regulatory action. The Flemish government subsidizes the Pascal Decroos Fund, which gives grants to projects in investigative journalism. The Vlaamse Vereniging voor Journalisten (VVJ) is an advocacy and support organisation for journalists. In 2019, they established an online complaints office for cases of aggression against journalists. The VVJ is also one of the initiators of the Council for Journalism (RVDJ), an independent body for self-regulation in the Flemish press. Mediawijs is the expertise centre on media and digital literacy. Media literacy is also a topic in the curriculums of schools as it is featured in the legally binding attainment goals of the Flemish education system (see 5.1).
Next to policies on the Flemish level, we should mention that the Belgian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression (art. 19) and freedom of press (art. 25; see also 2.2 and 4.1.1). As a consequence, people are free to carry out journalistic activities and can call themselves a ‘journalist’ as they like. Professional journalists, however, are protected by law and permissions to carry out the profession are granted by an official commission.
Media industries in Flanders have developed largely independent from those in the other parts of Belgium and constitute a small market compared to neighbouring countries. There is one Flemish Public Broadcaster (VRT), which has radio, television and online services. Together with four private media companies, VRT owns a majority of radio, television, and print (newspapers and magazines) media in Flanders. The most read online news media are also owned by the companies among these ‘big five’. Next to this, the Flemish public has access to a broad range of local media (see also table 1 in 1.3.2) and media outlets from the other Communities and other countries.
88% of people in Flanders consults news on a daily basis, mostly through (respectively) television, radio, and smartphone. Classic media remain a stronghold, with ‘new’ media such as streaming services often combined with more traditional media consumption (‘cord cutting’ is for example rare). In 2020, Streamz was launched as a Flemish ‘alternative’ for foreign video streaming services. It was initiated by two of the four large private media companies. VRT was prompted by the Flemish government to participate in the project by delivering content.
VRT produces its own audiovisual content, but also participates in independent productions — as is stipulated in its current management agreement with the Flemish government. One of the strategic goals in this agreement states that VRT must encourage cultural participation and must pay attention to a diversity of artistic and cultural expressions. A new management agreement is due for 2021. In preparatory texts, “stimulating Flemish creativity” is put forth as one of the main topics and information and culture are mentioned as priorities in the offer of the VRT. Audiovisual media productions such as television series can also receive support from the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF; see 3.5.3).
According to the 2020 edition of the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM2020), Belgium as a whole (thus comprising all three Communities) has a relatively positive score for media pluralism. Basic protection (related to the status of journalists, safeguards for freedom of expression, the independence of regulatory bodies, etc.) and political independence (of news production, distribution, and access) are both low risk. The MPM2020 signals a medium risk with regard to media plurality. As described above, there is a significant (cross-media) concentration of players, which own the majority of news media outlets on the Flemish market. The threat is also real for online platforms: use of social media and online search engines is well-established in Belgium, but the companies behind these media do not provide the necessary transparency. Neither Federal nor regional regulations contain provisions that account for the non-economic threats associated with a highly concentrated media market. Commercial and owner influence over editorial content form a potential threat, as social protection for journalists and editors against these influences is only accounted for through self-regulation and deontological codes.
Social inclusiveness of the Belgian media also constitutes a medium risk according to the MPM2020. The report notes that protection of access to media for minority groups is based on rather generic and abstract anti-discrimination regulation, which might pose a problem for effectively implementing this access. Public service media do a better job than private players in providing access to media for people with disabilities. Revision and correct implementation of policies on point remain an issue. With regard to gender balance, the MPM2020 concludes that women are underrepresented in higher positions (see 2.5.5 for similar conclusions on the arts), especially in those related to production of media content. Women are still underrepresented in news media, both as ‘news subjects’ and as ‘reporters or presenters’, across all media.
The MPM2020 presents a separate discussion of media pluralism in the online environment. Here, the indicators of media plurality and political independence are highlighted as medium risks. It signals the lack of control mechanisms and knowledge on digital native news media (which do not fall under the obligations of transparency towards media regulators, but whose audience reach is rather limited) as a potential problem, for example with regard to relations with political groupings. The role of social media and online platforms as intermediary for consulting news (59% of Belgians access news through these) entails a problem for the traditional advertising revenue model of media companies.
 Vandendriessche, Karel, and Lieven De Marez. 2020. ‘IMEC Digimeter 2019. Digitale mediatrends in Vlaanderen’. Leuven: IMEC, 48-49, 72-74.
 VRT. 2019. ‘Vlaanderen mee-maken. Visietekst ter voorbereiding van de beheersovereenkomst 2021-2025’, resp. 9 and 6.
Last update: November, 2020
Language, language communities, and language areas are fundamental to understanding the evolution of the Belgian State and the policies that govern its society. One important factor in this evolution is the striving for language rights for Dutch speakers since the inception of the Belgian State in 1830, when French was the only official language. These rights were gradually acquired throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century. Note that this did not result in a bi- or multilingual state: different language areas and communities were codified into official policies (see also 4.1.8). In 1962, a language border was defined, dividing Belgium into Dutch-, French-, and German-speaking areas and one bi-lingual area (i.e. Brussels-Capital, where French and Dutch are the official languages).
With the exception of a number of municipalities with special language rights for French-speaking residents, Dutch is the official language in the Dutch-speaking area. People are free to use the language they wish, but there are restrictions that are governed by laws. These stipulate language usage in schools, in law suits, at the workplace, or by public authorities. Non-native speakers of Dutch are for example allowed to register at Dutch-speaking schools, but the compulsory language for most courses is Dutch. Another example: the mastery of Dutch is not an official prerequisite for cultural professionals to apply for funding from the Flemish government, but most application procedures are strictly in Dutch.
General statistics on language use in the whole of Belgium or Flanders are not available. Data on 2020 provided by Statbel show that 58% of the Belgian population lives in the Flemish Region (which excludes the bi-lingual Brussel-Capital Region). However, statistics on persons with a culturally diverse background (see 2.5.1) suggest that a range of languages other than Dutch is spoken by significant parts of the population of Flanders and Brussels. There is data from the Ministry of Education and Training on the home language of pupils in Dutch-speaking schools. These show that in 2018-2019 about 22% of pupils in nursery and primary education and 18% of those in secondary education speak another language than Dutch at home — in both cases an increase compared to previous years. With regard to the Brussels region, there is the periodic ‘Taalbarometer’-survey on language use and knowledge. Results have shown that over a 100 different languages are spoken here. The most recent edition (2018) revealed that the use of Dutch as home language has remained stable, but that general knowledge of Dutch is waning, which has caused concern among Flemish politicians.
Throughout its history, the Flemish government has signed multiple international cooperation agreements related to culture. These feature agreements with countries or regions where (a form of) Dutch is (or was) spoken, such as South Africa and especially the Netherlands. Section 1.4.1 discusses the international cooperation on culture between Flanders and the Netherlands and the organisations that play an active role in these relationships, such Taalunie, deBuren, and De Brakke Grond. Current minister of Culture Jan Jambon (2019-2024) — member of the Flemish-Nationalist party NV-A — wishes to deepen the cultural and linguistic relations with the Netherlands. The mentioned organisations are named as partners in achieving this goal. In this context, the minister also envisions more cooperation between the funds for literature and audiovisual production from Flanders and those from the Netherlands (see resp. 3.5.2 and 3.5.3).
The Flemish Sign Language is a language in its own right and has its own legal framework (see also 2.5.6 and 4.1.8).
 There are twelve municipalities with linguistic facilities or ‘faciliteitengemeenten’, six in the Flemish periphery around Brussels and six along the border with the French-speaking area.
Last update: November, 2020
In 2016, cultural magazine Rekto:Verso published a special issue on gender inequality in the arts. Together with results of research on the working conditions of artists (see 2.3) that revealed a gender pay gap in artistic professions, debate among professionals and policy makers was sparked. Then minister of Culture Sven Gatz (2014-2019) ordered further research on gender inequality in creative sectors. The debate was reinvigorated in the wake of the #MeToo movement in 2017 and anonymous testimonials about gender-based and sexual harassment and gender discrimination that named prominent television producers and artists from Belgium. Gatz ordered a second survey in 2018, focused on harassment and abuse in the fields of culture and media. In the same year, the BelgianArtPrize (see 7.2.3) was cancelled, after a petition was launched against the all-male and all-white selection of nominated artists — a sign that the debate on gender inequality often intersects with other forms of inequality (see also 2.3 and 2.5.1).
The mentioned research on working conditions and gender inequality shows that among artistic professions, especially music, film, and architecture are predominantly male sectors. In other artistic sectors, the gender balance is fifty-fifty, unless age is taken into account: men are overrepresented in the older age groups and there is a larger share of women in the younger categories. Among older age groups, the gender pay gap is larger. Other surveys point at gender inequality in the decision-making positions in arts organisations funded by the Flemish government. In 2017, a mere 18% of arts organisations with multi-year funding had a management board that was all-female — compared to 53% with an all-male board. In 29% of the cases, there was a mixed-sex management board. Among the organisations receiving most funding, management functions are predominantly male. Two years later, another survey looked at the boards of directors of these arts organisations. In 71% of the examined cases, the board of directors consisted of a majority of men. In 18%, there was a preponderance of women and in 11% the balance was fifty-fifty.
The mentioned research on gender-based and sexual harassment and abuse in the fields of culture and media concluded that 71% of female respondents were, throughout their career, once or more the victim of behaviour deemed as harassment. Among male respondents, the share was one in three. 50% of female respondents reported an incident in the preceding year — compared to one in five male respondents. People with artistic or technical jobs in the cultural field and media are more often confronted with harassment at work. Especially young people, at the start of their career, and freelancers or people with short-term contracts are vulnerable. The perpetrators of harassment are in most cases superiors in rank, which links to a gendered power imbalance. 30% of all respondents indicate that reporting and discussing harassment at their work is (very) difficult.
Gender equality is often part of equal opportunities policies in Belgium. Legal frameworks on this matter reside with different government levels and policy areas. (Coordinated) actions for establishing gender equality are taken from within these different levels and areas. General legislation on the Flemish level that is relevant for the area of Culture includes rules that stipulate that a maximum of two thirds of members of governmental advisory bodies (such as the commissions evaluating funding applications) may be of the same sex.
In the policy field of Culture, former minister Gatz launched an Action Plan against harassment and abuse (‘Actieplan Grensoverschrijdend gedrag in de cultuur en audiovisuele sector’) in 2018. Taking into account the results of the mentioned research and round-table discussions with organisations in the cultural field, a set of actions for a three-year period (until 2021) was defined. These focused on promoting and re-enforcing the reporting channels, on raising awareness and sharing knowledge on the subject, and on addressing perpetrators. The actions included setting up training courses for confidential advisors, expanding the team of the Flemish Ombudsman Service for providing services tailored to the cultural and media sector, and support for the artist-led movement Engagement. Current minister of Culture Jan Jambon (2019-2024) announced to continue the support for the actions until 2021 and evaluate these afterwards.
 For an overview of (other) research on gender inequality in the arts in Flanders and Brussels, see Kunstenpunt, ed. 2019. Landschapstekening Kunsten: Ontwikkelingsperspectieven voor de kunsten anno 2019. Brussel: Kunstenpunt, 121-126.
 Hesters, Delphine, Simon Leenknegt, and Tom Ruette. 2018. ‘Cherchez les femmes. Genderverhoudingen in directies van structureel gesubsidieerde kunstenorganisaties’. In Cijferboek Kunsten 2018, 389–400. Brussels: Kunstenpunt.
 The Vrouwenraad provides an overview of relevant actors and policies on the different government levels in Belgium. Equal Opportunities is a separate policy field among the competences of the Communities. The website of the team Equal Opportunities of the Flemish government gathers information on equal opportunity policies of the Flemish Community.
 Jambon, Jan. 2019. ‘Beleidsnota Cultuur 2019-2024’, 16. For a discussion of the state of affairs of cultural policy on the topic of harassment and abuse anno 2020, see also: Wellens, Nikol. 2020. ‘Grenscorrectie’. Kunsten.be. 13 July 2020.
Last update: November, 2020
Equal opportunities policies in Belgium (see also 2.5.1, 2.5.5, and 2.6) include strategies towards equality for citizens with both physical and mental disabilities. (Coordinated) actions are taken from within different levels and areas, including the separate Flemish policy field of Equal Opportunities. In the area of Culture, interest from policy makers in the subject has varied. If people with disabilities are mentioned in policy statements, the focus lies on participation to culture. Various cultural policy instruments have been devised for this goal, such as the support schemes of the Participation Decree (although the project funding for participation of disadvantaged groups were recently repealed; see 6.1) or subsidies for making cultural infrastructure more accessible (which is one of the priorities of infrastructure funding for 2017-2021, see also 2.8). Relevant support measures on the provincial and local level include passes that grant companions of disabled persons free access at cultural events.
There is a legal framework for Flemish Sign Language (which is a language in its own right; see 4.1.8), which arranges support for the Expertise Centre for Flemish Sign Language (VGTC) and for projects that contribute to the establishment of the language.
There are (publicly funded) organisations in arts, cultural heritage, and socio-cultural work for adults (see 6.4) that focus on the position of people with disabilities in arts, culture, and society. Examples include Autisme Centraal, Doof Vlaanderen, Gezin & Handicap, KAOS, Museum Dr. Ghuislain, Platform K, Sig, Theater Stap, Zicht op Cultuur, and others. There are cases of other arts and culture organisations that make efforts to make their offer (more) accessible for visitors with mental or physical disabilities (if not with support from the funding options mentioned above). Despite dedicated organisations and best practices, there is recurring criticism that access to culture for people with disabilities is far from established in Flanders and Brussels.
Last update: November, 2020
(Coordinated) actions for equal opportunities are taken from within different government levels (the Communities, the Federal State, provincial and local authorities) and policy areas in Belgium (including the separate Flemish policy field of Equal Opportunities). Flemish anti-discrimination policies are aimed at equal opportunities on the basis of sex, gender, gender identity, gender expresssion, age, ethnic-cultural background, nationality, sexual orientation, disabilities, health condition, language, socio-economic position, religion and ideology, and other legally defined protected traits of people. Important institutions for realising equal opportunities and combatting discrimination on the Flemish and (inter)federal level are UNIA (see also 2.5.1), the Flemish Ombudsman Service (see also 2.5.5), and the Institute for the Equality of Men and Women.
Sections 2.5.1, 2.5.5, and 2.5.6 discuss cultural policy initiatives for equal access to culture with regard to (respectively) cultural diversity, gender, and disability. One specific group of citizens not mentioned in previous sections but which has been consistently the subject of attention in cultural policy statements is people in poverty. Since 2008, the Participation Decree (see 6.1 for details) provides a legal framework for support measures that aim to enhance access to culture for people in poverty — next to people with a culturally diverse background, people with disabilities, convicts, and families with children. Though some of the funding schemes of the Participation Decree have been repealed over the years, current minister of Culture Jan Jambon (2019-2024) stated he would continue to invest in (some of) these policy instruments. Enhancing access to the arts for all people (especially children) in Flanders is one of the priorities of his Strategic Vision Statement on the Arts — and here, collaboration with out-of-school child care or the role of participatory artistic and cultural practices is deemed important (see 5.4).
Section 6.4 mentions the different organisations and initiatives from the cultural field that actively engage with civil society, among them organisations discussed in 2.5.1 and 2.5.6. To those mentioned in the previous sections, we could add organisations that work with people in poverty (e.g. Cie Tartaren, Tutti Fratelli, Unie der Zorgelozen), refugees (e.g. Globe Aroma), or people (regardless of their background) from local neighbourhoods (e.g. Bij’De Vieze Gasten, kleinVerhaal, Zinneke).
Participation to culture in Flanders has been monitored since 2004 through the Participation Survey. Section 6.2 summarizes the results of the subsequent surveys, which show correlations with aspects such as age (younger generations participate less in ‘highbrow’ art such as performing arts, classical music, and museum visits), gender (women participate more, except for pop, rock, blues and jazz concerts), and the level of education (highly educated people participate more in most cultural activities). These surveys could not assess the impact of policy measures on cultural participation in Flanders.
 Lievens, John, Jessy Siongers, and Hans Waege, eds. 2015b. Participatie in Vlaanderen 2. Eerste analyses van de Participatiesurvey 2014. Leuven: ACCO Uitgeverij, 13-64.
Last update: November, 2020
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.
Last update: November, 2020
At the occasion of COP21 in Paris in 2015, about 450 cultural organisations from Belgium signed an open letter addressing the authorities to do their best in tackling climate change. The open letter shows that climate change and other issues related to sustainability are deemed important matters among cultural professionals in Flanders and Brussels. There are prime examples of cultural professionals implementing this ecological awareness. These include (subsidized) organisations in arts, architecture, design or socio-cultural work that devise projects in which sustainable practices (with regard to socially just transition, reducing carbon emissions, cradle-to-cradle strategies, green mobility, etc.) are central. Despite these examples, sustainability remains a challenging matter for many other cultural professionals, who find it difficult to reconcile it with their ways of working (such as international touring).
When looking at policy statements of ministers of Culture, ecological sustainability is primarily mentioned in relation to cultural infrastructure. The exception is former minister Joke Schauvliege (2009-2014) — then also minister of Environment and Nature — who made “initiating eco-culture” a strategic goal during her term. In 2010, workshops with cultural professionals gathered around the topics of Schauvliege’s strategic goals. The vision paper delivered by the workshop on eco-culture was one of the impetuses for Pulse, a network of individuals and organisations that connects and shares knowledge on sustainable practices in the domains of culture, youth, and media. In 2013, Pulse also started receiving funding from the Flemish government.
In the wake of the Flemish government’s commitment to the COP21, Schauvliege’s successor, Sven Gatz (2014-2019), commissioned Pulse to create Cultuurzaam.be, a collection of online toolkits that culture professionals can use to make their practice more sustainable. With a financial injection from the Flemish Climate Fund, Gatz redirected the funding schemes of the Cultural Infrastructure Fund (FoCI) to prioritize investments in energy efficient buildings (these priorities are in place until 2021, see also 2.5.6). Special loans for culture and youth organisations to invest in solar power were also made available.
Other pertinent funding schemes in the policy field of Culture include the policies of the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF) on sustainable film production. Outside the area of Culture, we should mention the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM). They have support schemes for sustainable events (which include cultural events) and promote sustainable design projects with their Ecodesign Awards. Local authorities can also be relevant on a policy level with regard to culture and sustainability. Some cities, for example, provide support to their local Greentrack network. Greentrack networks gather arts organisations that strive for a socially just and sustainable society in Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp, Bruges, and Courtrai.
 See also Kunstenpunt, ed. 2019. Landschapstekening Kunsten: Ontwikkelingsperspectieven voor de kunsten anno 2019. Brussel: Kunstenpunt, 138-143; Wellens, Nikol. 2020. ‘Klimaatregeling’. Kunsten.be. 17 September 2020.
Last update: November, 2020
The Arts Decree is the main legislative framework in Flanders and Brussels for supporting the professional arts (see also section 3). It provides open and flexible support schemes for diverse artistic initiatives, which are granted funding on the basis of peer-assessed artistic quality. At the same time, primarily the individual qualities of funding applications are judged. There is no procedure for assessing a ‘right’ balance between qualified applications. This poses a problem in a context of pressure on public expenditure for the arts (see 7.1.3). If there is not enough funding for all artistic initiatives deemed deserving of subsidies, how to decide on who will eventually get funding? And which balances — between disciplines, between functions, between large, mid-large and small initiatives, between new and old organisations, etc. — should be taken into account when deciding?
The Strategic Vision Statement on the Arts of minister Jan Jambon (2019-2024) took up these questions and proposed a reform of the Arts Decree. Part of the reform is the plan to incorporate the assessment of balances in the procedures for evaluating funding applications. This should enable to evaluate the ratio between disciplines in arts funding and provide more opportunities for genres that have been previously ‘overlooked’, such as visual arts (see 3.4), design, or architecture (see 3.5.5).
Another part of the reform of the Arts Decree is a quadripartite division of funding schemes. The different types of project funding and grants will be subsumed in the category of ‘dynamic space’ (dynamische ruimte’) — for which a specific and possibly larger share of government expenditure on arts will be reserved. The existing category of major art institutions (see 1.3.3) will be maintained. The other funding category of multi-year-funding for arts organisations will be split in two. One part will be reserved for subsidies for the ‘broad field’ (‘brede veld’) — which will be similar to the existing multi-year support schemes — and another for ‘core institutions’ (‘kerninstellingen’) — which will receive longer term support than is currently the case. Similar to the major art institutions, the future core institutions will sign a management agreement with the Flemish government, which implies that these organisations can receive official assignments from the government (see also 2.3). This is (more implicitly) an answer to the question of balances between large, mid-large, and small initiatives — in which the small ones (funded within the ‘dynamic space’) and larger ones (funded as core or major arts institutions) will most likely get more options.
The latter has led to concern among arts professionals that (if the overall budget for the arts will not rise) a number of important initiatives (in the mid-large range) will no longer receive funding and that the gap between small and large players will become bigger — leaving fewer opportunities for innovation and for the development of artists’ careers. Another implication of the proposed reform relates to the core institutions signing a management agreement with the Flemish government. This means a larger part of the publicly funded arts field — which will also represent a substantial part of the overall budget for the arts — will come into a more direct relationship with their funding government.
 Kunstenpunt, ed. 2019. Landschapstekening Kunsten: Ontwikkelingsperspectieven voor de kunsten anno 2019. Brussel: Kunstenpunt, 195-208.
 Jambon, Jan. 2020. ‘Strategische Visienota Kunsten’, 6-12. This, in turn, followed the announcement of a number of changes to the regulations and legal frameworks in Jan Jambon’s policy memorandum on Culture (—. 2019. ‘Beleidsnota Cultuur 2019-2024’, 33-34), also including the Decree on Socio-Cultural Work for Adults (see 2.5.1).