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In 2016, the Flemish Minister allocated arts organisations 3,2 million more than in 2016 in an attempt to address budget stagnation in recent years.


Following a survey on the profile of the artist, the Flemish Minister has introduced new policy initiatives to improve their conditions.

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Belgium/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and debates  

4.2.1 Conceptual issues of policies for the arts

Flemish Community

In many European countries, the legitimacy of subsidies for arts and culture is under pressure, with government expenditure being under increasing strain by the financial and economic crisis. In Flanders, this is no different. There were discussions on financial aspects of arts funding (subsidies versus additional funding, business models and economic impact of arts policy), which has sparked off other debates about the role of arts and culture in society and the relationship between arts and politics. In 2014, the support organisations of the different cultural fields in Flanders, together with the Department of Culture, Youth, Sports and Media, commissioned research about the value of culture, carried out by Prof. Pascal Gielen (U Groningen) and his research team. This led to a publication with a concise overview of the insights of impact studies and suggestions for a renewed discourse on the central role of culture (and arts) in our society.

In December 2013, a new (second) Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts was voted in, which contains a number of more far reaching innovations.

A strategic framework as a basis. At the start of each policy term, the Minister of Culture presents a Strategic Vision Note for the Arts to the Flemish Parliament, as a basis for future policy decisions. Flanders Arts Institute provides the basis for this document, with a Landscape Sketch for the Arts.

An open definition of the artistic practice. In their applications, arts organisations and artists describe the core goals of their project or organization in terms of ‘functions’ and ‘disciplines’. Any combination of functions and disciplines can be opted for. The five functions stated in the law are: development, production, presentation, participation and reflection. The Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts itself does not forward any artistic disciplines, but in the current procedures, the following ‘main disciplines’ are presented as options: music, performing arts, visual and audiovisual arts, architecture and design, and trans-disciplinary arts. Several potential ‘sub-disciplines’ are mentioned for most of these disciplines, without limiting the list. ‘Trans-disciplinarity’ stands for these artistic practices that do not define themselves in terms of the main artistic disciplines. With these options, the Flemish Government aimed to maximize the potential for self-definition of the artistic practitioners and aimed to facilitate, rather than limit future developments in the arts.

A pool of assessors. The Flemish Government equally opted for a more flexible approach in the organisation of the peer/expert evaluation. It now functions on the basis of a large ‘pool’ of assessors, with expertise in the abovementioned functions and/or disciplines. Groups of dossiers with similar profiles in terms of functions and disciplines are matched with groups of assessors, ad hoc commissions, with the necessary expertise.   

Project subsidies up to three years. Structural funding for 5 years. In the past, project funding was limited to one year projects. In the new Decree, projects can last up to three years. Structural funding is now awarded for five years, rather than four.

In his Culture Policy Paper for 2014-2019, Minister Gatz termed ‘a dynamic execution’ of the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts as one of his most important goals. He wishes to develop a sustainable and integrated policy for the arts, by formulating clear priorities for the field, against the fragmentation of the budget among (too) many art organisations. He stated that the budget for the arts has roughly remained constant over the last years, while the number of supported organisations has increased. Also, the Flemish Government aims to strengthen the largest ‘flagship’ institutions.

In 2016, the Minister communicated his decisions for the structural round 2017-2021 in which he operationalized this policy ambition. 207 arts organisations are receiving in total €84.763.400 in 2017, which is €3,2 million more than in 2016. 244 organisations gained a positive results following the artistic and business assessment (with a total budget of €105.947.900). Eleven organizations are new in the group of structurally funded structures, while 49 organisations that had structural subsidies in the previous round have lost their structural support (29 among them had been given a positive assessment). The seven Flemish Institutions together received €54 million (€2,3 million more than the year before). In 2016, the project subsidies - for grants to artists and project subsidies for artists and organisations amount to €8,8 million.

As Minister Gatz acknowledges in his policy documents, the socio-economic position of the artist is under pressure. In 2016, his administration co-financed a large scale survey on their socio-demographic profile, artistic and non-artistic activities, income and job satisfaction of artists in film, literature, music, performing arts and visual arts. Recently, he presented a number of policy initiatives that aim to better the position of artists, mainly focussing on so-called alternative income or entrepreneurship, such as updating the system of artist loans. Meanwhile, the debate on the socio-economic position of the artist has gained momentum in the arts field as well. It is part of a larger debate on ‘fair practices’ in which not only the socio-economic reality of artists and art workers are considered, but equally questions of transparency and diversity. Another important and related debate in the arts field has been the one on the role of arts institutions. One line of the debate tackles the question of the relationship between (independently working) artists and institutions, while others focus on the societal position of the arts institution in a changing society, in relation to changing demography but also the rise of the knowledge- and network society.

Two important new aspect of the Literature policy are the implementation of a regulated book price and the development of a subsidy instrument for non-fiction.

French-speaking Community of Belgium

Questions relating to artistic policy arise in terms of refinancing packages of aid designed to help artistic employment out of a situation of insecurity. To bolster the development of artistic expressions such as public youth theatre, an aspect which has been somewhat overlooked when support for performing arts has been given out, it is important to be able to deliver structural financial support to raise the profile of these sectors.

More broadly, an employment register might make it possible to renegotiate the decree on non-merchant employment so that performing arts operators can benefit, in the same way as libraries, cultural centres and continuing education and youth organisations.

In addition, given the changes made in late 2013 by the Federal government in terms of employment and social security, and the increasing insecurity of the artistic professions, the French-speaking Community of Belgium is thinking about setting up a permanent consultative platform spanning all levels of power (Communities, Regions and Federal) and bodies representing artists, to take account of the everyday problems being encountered, and to amend or rectify the legal instruments issued in late 2013, in such a way as to save the artistic professions from being plunged into poverty.

In 2013, a cooperation agreement was signed between the Flemish Community and the French-speaking Community of Belgium, to provide for the setting up of a platform for cooperation between the two administrations in order on the one hand to support the partnerships set up by the cultural institutions and on the other, to run the institutions co-financed by the two Communities (Festival de Wallonie/Festivaal van Vlaanderen, NEXT festival, Couleur Café, Passaporta, Muziekpublique and the Zinnekeparade).

Chapter published: 26-06-2018

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