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Belgium/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.8 Social cohesion and cultural policies

Flemish Community

Encouraging access to cultural development for everyone is a major issue in the government of Flanders coalition agreement 2014-2019. The UiTPAS combines a benefits programme for everyone with financial discounts for people with low or fixed incomes. Holders of a UiTPAS can earn points by participating in leisure activities and exchange them for benefits. People with low or fixed incomes are entitled to a UiTPAS at a reduced price. That makes it easier for them to take part in leisure activities, without being stigmatized. An important link is made between this aspiration and the pursuit of an intercultural society (see chapter 4.2.4).

Another major link has been made to the field of "socio-artistic practice", which has become a specific point of attention. In this context, "socio-artistic work" is conceptualised as process-like-activities which focus both on the artistic aspect and the involvement of the participants. Since 2006, project subsidies have been replaced by transversal support and financing. Socio-artistic practice offers possibilities for the reinforcement of city and communal patterns of cohabitation.

There are several types of support within the framework of the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts (2004, amended 2008 and 2013). Artistic organisations can either opt to take on participative activities as a major element in their overall activities, and calculate this in their subsidy request, or they can file for a project subsidy as can individual artists. Organisations specifically targeted towards socio-artistic activities received structural subsidies for a period of 5 years (2017-2021).

A Participation Decree entered into force in January 2008. It provides a policy framework for explicit participation initiatives to facilitate access to culture, aimed at:

  • people in poverty;
  • prisoners;
  • disabled people;
  • people with an ethnic-cultural diversified background; and
  • families with young children.

This Decree offers:

  • policy instruments to stimulate the participation of the various groups;
  • subsidies for projects that encourage participation. This particularly concerns initiatives related to socio-cultural work, communication, circulation and dissemination of artworks, financial obstacles, and physical access. Longitudinal scientific research on cultural participation is also important for the policy; and
  • grants for large scale cultural events.

The organisation DÄ“mos is a knowledge centre active in the Participation Decree. It was founded as "Kunst en Democratie" (Art and Democracy) at the beginning of the 1990s as a knowledge centre paying attention to social topics such as the battle against extremism, racism and discrimination, the role of culture and sport in situations of exclusion and the responsibility of artists in our democracy. Their focus is on renewing and deepening the participation of disadvantaged groups in culture, youth and sport.

In 2009 scientific research into amateur arts in Flanders estimated 37% of Flemish people between the ages of 14 and 75 practised at least one creative hobby in the past six months. 27% of Flemish people can be considered frequent practitioners. This means that they pursue at least one creative hobby every week or two different disciplines at least several times a month. In comparison, only a minority of the Flemish population (29%) has never practised any kind of art form. The Flemish amateur arts sector is strongly developed and includes nine nationally recognised amateur arts organizations and a platform. Together, they support many thousands of artists and interested members in every sub-discipline.

In 2015 the subsidised social-cultural sector in Flanders consists of 54 associations, 18 training institutes, three union-related training organisations, 13 local colleges, four training institutes for people with a disability and 35 other movements to promote a rich and varied range of socio-cultural activities (primarily) for adults. In this field, around 2.000 professionals support 250.000 volunteers to increase their general development and participation in society as well as giving more people the chance to participate in cultural life. In January 2018, a new Flemish Parliament Act on social-cultural work for adults will start functioning. The main objective is to promote a rich and differentiated range of socio-cultural activities that are organised on a non-commercial basis, linked to personal development, social inclusion, active citizenship, and much more.

The refugee crisis of 2015 urged also the cultural sector to respond: e.g. organising meetings with locals, trips to museums and sports clubs. New approaches and collaborations were developed to reach out: performances, concerts, exhibitions and debates featuring refugee artists.

French-speaking Community of Belgium

The objectives and missions of several cultural sectors (youth, continuing education, creativity, libraries, cultural centres, public audio-visual media services) are incorporating issues relating to social cohesion which are generally identified with cultural participation and expression by people and social groups in a vulnerable social or economic situation.

Several associations are supported simultaneously by both social cohesion policies and cultural policies. They thus combine objectives of social inclusion with continuing education cultural practices (citizen participation and expression) or socio-artistic practices (artistic expression in connection with a project linked to living conditions and the social environment).

These sectors account for almost half of cultural spending by the Culture Administration.

Specific programmes to complement the recurrent regulatory provisions are being rolled out to support expression by particular sectors of the public: young people[1], illiterate people[2], people of foreign origin and new arrivals[3], and people suffering a disability[4].

In 2010, in the framework of the European year of the fight against poverty and social exclusion and the Belgian Presidency of the Council of Ministers of the European Union, conclusions were adopted by the Council of Ministers on culture on the initiative of the French-speaking Community, on the role of culture in the fight against poverty and social exclusion. A symposium on the same theme has completed this reflection and stance[5].

[1] ‘Soutien aux projets jeunes’,  circular in application by the French-speaking Community of Belgium since 2007.

[2] ‘Alpha-culture’ is a programme set up in 2007 by the French-speaking Community of Belgium to support and promote projects around artistic or cultural practices conducted with illiterate people as part of their training.

[3] The Immigrant Policy Incentive Fund fell under the responsibility of the Federal State until 2014, but was transferred to the Communities and the Regions in July 2014. It notably supports the social and cultural participation and mixing of people of immigrant origin and new arrivals.

[4] Decree on the inclusion of disabled people, adopted by the Cocof in 2014. In Wallonia, the Walloon Agency for the Integration of Disabled People (AWIPH) focused several actions in 2013 on cultural expression by disabled people via the big screen and the stage.

[5] « Conclusions du Conseil sur le rôle de la culture dans la lutte contre la pauvreté et l’exclusion sociale » (2010/ C 324/03), 1/12/2010, Journal officiel de l’Union européenne

Le rôle de la culture dans la lutte contre la pauvreté et l’exclusion sociale, Administration générale de la Culture, Service général de la Jeunesse et de l’Education permanente, Collection Culture Education permanente, n°19, 2013.

Chapter published: 16-01-2018

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