6. Cultural participation and consumption
Last update: November, 2020
Access to culture and cultural development in Flanders has been a recurring topic in the policy priorities of subsequent ministers of Culture — though with differing intensity and accents. Whereas, for example, participation of people in poverty is featured in policy documents of the four most recent ministers of Culture (see also 2.6), participation of people with culturally diverse backgrounds lacks mention in documents of the current minister (see also 2.5.1). Likewise, specific attention to participation of people with disabilities has waned in the strategic goals of the last two ministers of Culture (see 2.5.6).
On the Flemish level of government, the Participation Decree (since 2008) offers a policy framework for initiatives that focus on facilitating access to culture (but also sports and youth activities) and that are aimed at people in poverty, convicts, people with disabilities, people with a culturally diverse background, and/or families with children. Policy instruments of this decree include support for hobby associations and co-funding of local networks for people in poverty — in which local governments’ services and associations of people in poverty collaborate to enhance access to leisure time activities. The Participation Decree used to provide more opportunities for support, but some initiatives have ceded to exist or are no longer taking applications. A recent example is the funding for projects aimed at participation of disadvantaged groups, which has been shut down under current minister Jan Jambon (2019-2024).
The Participation Decree also arranges the support for two participation institutions (‘participatie-instellingen’), Dēmos and publiq. Dēmos acts as research and advocacy organisation on policies and practices (in the spheres of Culture, Youth, and Sport) that focus on groups that are under-represented and underexposed in society. They also organise VRIJUIT, a network of organisations that provides reduced entry fees for cultural and sport events to people in poverty.
The aim of publiq is to stimulate participation to cultural and other leisure time activities through communication, marketing, and information services (see also 2.4). Their principle tool for this is UiTinVlaanderen.be, where people can search for activities in and around the place they live. Organisers of events themselves provide the information for its database. The information on events can be reused on other digital platforms. Publiq also manages the UiTPAS. Holders of this pass can earn points by participating in leisure activities in Flanders and Brussels and exchange them for benefits. Holders with low or fixed incomes are entitled to concessionary rates for activities linked with the UiTPAS – information which remains discreet. The idea is that this would make it easier for them to take part in leisure activities, without the risk of being stigmatized. Publiq collaborates with other organisations in Belgium in managing the system of museum passes. Holders of this pass are granted free or reduced entry rates to museums all over Belgium, during one year. Furthermore, publiq is involved in UiTmetVlieg — a database of and label for leisure time activities suited for families and children —, in BILL — an event database and information platform on cultural activities for young people —, and in Cultuurkuur.be — which, in collaboration with CANON Cultural Unit (see 5.2), offers an overview of cultural education activities that can be booked by schools in Flanders and Brussels.
Lasso is the platform for cultural participation in Brussels. It devises projects on cultural participation, shares knowledge on the subject, and acts as a network for professionals and volunteers in culture, education, welfare, and youth. It receives support from the Flemish Community Commission (VGC) and the Brussels-Capital Region.
Some policy makers have stressed the importance of participatory artistic practices as drivers of enhancing cultural participation. These are described in 6.4.
 See, for example: Anciaux, Bert. 2004. ‘Beleidsnota Cultuur 2004-2009’, 15-17; Schauvliege, Joke. 2009. ‘Beleidsnota Cultuur 2009-2014’, 16-18; Gatz, Sven. 2014. ‘Beleidsnota 2014-2019. Cultuur’, 36-38; Jambon, Jan. 2019. ‘Beleidsnota Cultuur 2019-2024’, 14.
 Anciaux, Bert. 2004. ‘Beleidsnota Cultuur 2004-2009’, 45; Gatz, Sven. 2015. ‘Strategische Visienota Kunsten. Naar een dynamisch, divers en slagkrachtig kunstenlandschap in Vlaanderen’, 64-66; Jambon, Jan. 2020. ‘Strategische Visienota Kunsten’, 18-19.
Last update: November, 2020
An important source on cultural participation in Flanders is the Participation Survey (‘Participatiesurvey’). Since 2004, this survey is commissioned every five years by the Flemish government (the current survey has met delay and is scheduled for 2021-2022). It is each time carried out according to a similar methodology, which allows for comparison over time. Table 3 presents data on receptive participation in cultural activities by the Flemish population (between ages 15 and 86), in 2004, 2009, and 2014. Table 4 presents data on active participation in artistic hobbies in Flanders in the same period.
Table 3: People who participated in or attended a certain cultural activity during the last 6 months in the Flemish Community (in % of the population, over 3 available years)
|Concerts of classic music||5.2||5.9||6|
|Popular performing arts (circus, revue, etc.)||30.2||32||28.1|
|Concerts of non-classic music (pop, rock, jazz etc.)||9.8||15.7||19.8|
|Art museums and exhibitions||19.2||18.3||20.1|
|Museums and exhibitions (other than art)||16.8||18.6||21.3|
|Monuments and other cultural heritage activities||38.7||48.1||40.5|
|To read literature (novels and poetry)||33.2||38.4||39.5|
Participation Survey and related web tool (2015)
The data of subsequent editions of the Participation Survey show that the share of visitors of many cultural activities has remained stable throughout 2004-2014. There are some significant exceptions:
- there is a strong increase of the share of visitors to non-classical music concerts throughout the whole period
- the share of readers of novels and poetry clearly increases between 2004 and 2009, remaining stable afterwards
- the number of ‘one-time’ visits to monuments and other cultural heritage events has a steep rise in 2009, resulting in a temporary surge in the total share of visitors
- the number of ‘one-time’ visits to concerts of classical music rises, resulting in a slight increase of the total share of visitors
- the share of visitors to popular performing arts events drops in 2014, which is mainly an effect of less young and middle-aged visitors
- the number of frequent cinema visitors drops, resulting in a slight decrease in the total share of cinema visitors throughout 2004-2014
- When lumped together, the share of ‘artful’ performing arts (by which the researchers denote theatre, ballet, contemporary dance, and folk dance) remains relatively stable over the whole period. There is, however, a drop in frequent participation in these activities by young people
Table 4: People who have carried out artistic amateur activities in the Flemish Community in the last 6 months by type of activity, in % of total population, period 2004-2014
|Painting, drawing or graphic work||6.6||7.4||6.4|
|Other visual arts (sculpting)||1.6||1.1||1.5|
|Dance and ballet||4.3||6||4|
|Playing an instrument||7.1||6.3||8.1|
Source: Participation Survey and related web tool (2015)
The data on active participation in artistic amateur activities show a rather capricious pattern, prompting the researchers of the Participation Survey to conclude that no clear upward or downward trends can be discerned. The overall data do show that, between 2004 and 2014, one out of four people in Flanders carried out an artistic hobby at least once a month.
The Participation Survey also probes into the background of respondents. The results of the analyses of these data are in line with the outcome of international research, pointing out that age, gender, level of education, place of residence, and the environment in which respondents grew up play a role in cultural participation. There also seems to be a positive correlation between the size of the cultural offer in a certain place and the degree of cultural participation. The data gathered for the Participation Survey are insufficient to make claims about the role of culturally diverse backgrounds of respondents. When looking at non-participation in Flanders, respondents mainly indicate a lack of interest as cause — rather than, for example, practical or financial thresholds.
Though it has confronted the researchers with methodological issues, the Participation Survey has also tried to track the impact of digitisation on cultural participation. Here, the data show a very clear increase between 2009 and 2014 in the use of the Internet as a medium in both receptive and active cultural participation, as an information channel on cultural events, and as a platform for distributing and obtaining cultural artefacts.
In general, the Participation Survey concludes that, contrary to other regions and countries, cultural participation in Flanders has remained quite stable between 2004-2014. The researchers nonetheless highlight some signals that indicate this situation might change in the long run. Especially cultural participation of younger generations might prove to become an issue in later surveys. We should, however, also refer to the results of the SCV-survey. This survey was carried out on a yearly basis between 1996 and 2018 by Statistics Flanders. The methodology is different from the Participation Survey and it does not provide as detailed information, but its most recent data on receptive cultural participation does not suggest a general downward trend (and even a slight increase in the share of participants in certain artistic activities).
 Unless stated otherwise, this and following paragraphs are based on Lievens, John, Jessy Siongers, and Hans Waege, eds. 2015b. Participatie in Vlaanderen 2. Eerste analyses van de Participatiesurvey 2014. Leuven: ACCO Uitgeverij, 13-64.
 In general, there is few quantitative research on cultural participation in Flanders that takes culturally diverse backgrounds of respondents into account.
 Lievens, John, and Hans Waege, eds. 2011b. Participatie in Vlaanderen 2. Eerste analyses van de Participatiesurvey 2009. Leuven: ACCO Uitgeverij, 323-324.
 Lievens, John, Jessy Siongers, and Hans Waege, eds. 2015b. Participatie in Vlaanderen 2. Eerste analyses van de Participatiesurvey 2014. Leuven: ACCO Uitgeverij, 157-181.
Last update: November, 2020
Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, carries out a Household Budget Survey (HBS) every two years (within the framework of the EU-HBS). These contain detailed data on mean household expenditure for the whole of Belgium, of which a selection for 2012 and 2018 is presented in Table 5. Separate overviews for the Flemish, Brussels-Capital and Walloon Regions are also available, but these do not contain the same level of detail.
Between 2012 and 2018, there is a decrease in the mean household expenditure on books and press — which is primarily an effect of less expenditure on press — and audiovisual equipment and accessories — but not with regard to musical instruments, which remains stable. We also see a drop in the shares of radio and television subscriptions and costs for material for information processing (such as laptops) in the budgets of Belgian households.
By contrast, cultural services take on a larger share in 2018, with a clear increase of mean household expenditure on tickets and subscriptions for cinema, theatre and concerts, and even a doubling of the expenditure on museums, libraries and parks.
Table 5: Mean household cultural expenditure in Belgium by expenditure purpose, 2012 and 2018
|Items (Field/Domain)||Mean household expenditure (in million EUR and percentage of total)||Average per capita expenditure (EUR)|
|I. Books and Press||409||1.15||352||0.98||173||157|
|II. Cultural Services||260||0.73||291||0.81||110||130|
|Cinema, theatre and others||78||0.22||125||0.35||33||55|
|Museums, libraries, parks and similar||20||0.06||40||0.11||8||18|
|Photographic services and other||17||0.05||20||0.06||7||9|
|III. Audiovisual equipment and accessories||370||1.04||225||0.63||157||100|
|Support for recording image, sound and data||107||0.30||64||0.18||45||28|
|Audiovisual equipment and accessories||43||0.12||33||0.09||18||15|
|IV. Subscriptions of television, information processing|
|Rental and subscriptions of radio and television|
|Subscriptions of radio and television||122||0.34||72||0.20||52||32|
|Rental of cultural equipment and accessories||3||0.01||0.3||0.00||1||0.15|
|Information Processing and Internet|
|Material for information processing||162||0.46||88||0.25||69||39|
|Mobile and Internet services||925||2.61||1 011||2.83||393||450|
Statbel, Household Budget Survey (2019)
Last update: November, 2020
Flanders has a strong tradition of socio-cultural work, which has its historical origins in cultural and social emancipation movements of different ideological backgrounds. A part of the field is supported by the Flemish government through the Decree on Socio-Cultural Work for Adults (which falls within the policy field of Culture). These organisations can be divided in four types:
- Associations (‘verenigingen') are networks of local societies that organise activities for their members and other people. Some of these societies focus on specific audiences (such as families or seniors) or specific subjects (such as cultural activities, human rights, or ecological awareness). There are currently over fifty of these associations, grouping around 14 000 local societies.
- ‘Vormingplus-centra’ (formerly known as folk high schools), of which there are thirteen. Each of these organisations covers a specific region and organises courses for adults on diverse (mostly social and cultural) themes.
- National training institutions (‘landelijke vormingsinstellingen’) offer education for adults. There are over twenty active over the whole of Flanders. They focus on a specific theme (nature and environment, care, relationships, etc.) or a specific audience (people with physical disabilities, employees, etc.).
- Movements, organised around a specific topic related to civil society (such as mobility, peace, citizenship, the fight against poverty, etc.) and operating all over Flanders. There are over thirty of these movements.
Next to socio-cultural organisations aimed at adults, there also many youth organisations and youth houses all over Flanders (which reside under the separate policy field of Youth). Local governments or the Flemish government offer support for certain organisations and infrastructure. Those eligible for support of the Flemish government include youth associations; organisations for cultural education; organisations offering information on personal and civil themes, and children’s rights, or offering participatory trajectories in policymaking; youth houses organising activities within the scope of the priorities of the Flemish policy on children’s rights; and certain youth accommodation. Political youth movements no longer receive funding through the youth policy of the Flemish government.
Amateur arts receive support from the Flemish government, within the framework of the Decree on Amateur Arts (which falls under socio-cultural work, a subdomain of the policy field of Culture). Through this decree, funding is provided to one organisation per artistic discipline: BREEDBEELD (photography, audiovisual and multimedia arts), Creatief schrijven (literature), Danspunt (dance), Koor&Stem (vocal music), KUNSTWERKT (visual arts), Muziekmozaïek (folk and jazz), OPENDOEK (theatre), VI.BE (pop and rock music, DJs, see also 7.2.1), and Vlamo (instrumental music). In their turn, these organisations provide support — i.e. providing information and promotion, organising workshops, showcases, or contests — for amateur arts associations and individual amateur artists all over Flanders (for statistics on participation in artistic hobbies in Flanders, see 6.2). Associations and individuals can also apply for project funding through the Decree on Amateur Arts (see also 7.2.1).
Local governments also offer support for amateur arts. The cities of Ghent, Antwerp, and Brussels each have their own support centre for local amateur arts — respectively CIRCA, Fameus, and Zinnema (which is also funded by the Flemish government). As a result of the ‘Internal State Reform’, provincial governments in Flanders have ceded their support for amateur arts (see 1.2.4). We should also mention the academies for part-time education in the arts (‘Deeltijds Kunstonderwijs’, which falls under the policy field of education and training, see 5.4), which provide training in visual arts, music, literature, and performing arts for children and adults in the majority of municipalities in Flanders and Brussels.
Most municipalities in Flanders have cultural infrastructure such as community centres, culture centres, and/or libraries. Since 2016, all of these organisations fully reside under the competence and funding facilities of local governments (also a consequence of the Internal State Reform, see 1.2.4). Before, when they were regulated by the Flemish government, culture centres (over sixty in number) had three official tasks: spreading culture, community development, and promoting cultural participation. Together with community centres, culture centres are an important organiser of (or provider of infrastructure for) cultural events throughout Flanders.
Lastly, we should mention initiatives and organisations operating at the intersection of arts and civil society in Flanders. These include participatory art practices (which, for example, offer innovating art education or work closely together with specific audiences such as people in poverty or people with disabilities) and transdisciplinary initiatives (which proceed from an artistic practice to tackle questions of, for example, technology, science, ecology, etc.). Urban areas in Flanders and Brussels prove to be fertile grounds for projects and organisations (many of them of transitory nature) that transgress the boundaries between arts, (sub)culture(s) and other spheres of society. Both the Flemish government (via, for example, the Participation Decree, the Arts Decree, and the Decree on Socio-Cultural Work for Adults) and the local level offer opportunities of support for these initiatives.
 Overviews of cultural centres and libraries before this transition can be found in Departement Cultuur, Jeugd, Sport en Media van de Vlaamse overheid. 2016. Cultuurcentra in cijfers gevat. Focus op: publieksbereik. Brussels; and —. 2017. Bibliotheken in cijfers gevat. Focus op: bibliotheekinfrastructuur. Brussels.
 Research has shown that culture and community centres play an important role in the distribution of concerts and stage performances in Flanders, see: Leenknegt, Simon. 2018. ‘Podiumkunsten in Vlaanderen en Brussel. Het aanbod in 2014 in kaart gebracht’. In Cijferboek Kunsten 2018, Brussel: Kunstenpunt, 299–326; and Janssens, Joris, and Nico Kennes. 2018. ‘Livemuziek in Vlaanderen. Het aanbod in kaart gebracht’. In Cijferboek Kunsten 2018, Brussel: Kunstenpunt, 255–78.