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Belgium/ 8.4 Amateur arts, cultural associations and civil initiatives  

8.4.1 Amateur arts and folk culture

Flemish Community

In Flemish cultural policy, a broad concept of amateur arts is used. It entails associations as well as individual artists who are active in the field of theatre, dance, music, visual arts and writing. The amateur arts sector in Flanders is supported by the Agency Socio-Cultural Work for Youth and Adults of the Department for Culture, Youth and Media.

The Flemish Parliament Act on the Amateur Arts was introduced on 22 December 2000 and has known more recent changes in 2013. An important aim of the law was to stimulate pluralism and professionalism in the sector. The decree recognises and supports one Flemish amateur organisation per art discipline or sub-discipline. The following nine organisations are funded on the basis of a 5 year policy plan: Vlamo (instrumental music), KUNSTWERK[t] (visual arts), Danspunt (dance), Poppunt (pop music & DJ's), Centrum voor Beeldexpressie (Photography, film and multimedia), Creatief Schrijven (writing), Koor&Stem (vocal music), Muziekmozaïek (folk & jazz music) and OPENDOEK (theatre). The Forum voor Amateurkunsten (founded in 2006) is an overarching organization serving as support center and advocacy organization, It equally deals with interdisciplinary amateur arts practices.

The Flemish Government recognizes the possibility of future developments in artistic disciplines. Of a project does not fit the framework of the nine regular organizations, there is a possibility to apply for project subsidy. 

The mentioned "national amateur arts organisations" provide different forms of support in their different (sub)sectors. However diverse, they all function as information centres for practitioners, providing information via sector-specific websites and publications. Several have opened documentation centres and offer amateur artists and groups the opportunity to enter competitions. Amateur artists can follow master classes in several disciplines and get artistic, organizational and technical guidance (for instance production management, sound engineering, voice training and camera skills). On a regular basis, they initiate international projects on cross-disciplinary initiatives. Via a focused target group policy, the sector enables as many people as possible to participate. Through the nine organisations, amateur artists get opportunities to present and showcase their activities locally and abroad.

Each year in spring, the Forum voor Amateurkunsten coordinates the Week of Amateur Arts (WAK) throughout Flanders and Brussels. WAK encourages stage and exhibition opportunities for amateur artists and is organised in co-operation with the municipalities.

The larger cities in Flanders (Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels) have a specific centre that supports amateur arts. The centre in Brussels, called "Zinnema" (founded in 2007), is also subsidised by the Flemish Government.

Up until today, the provincial governments play an important role in the support of amateur arts. They do not only provide financial support, but organize a.o. projects and contests. Furthermore, the provincial governments offer logistical and promotional support. Due to the ‘Internal State Reform’ of Flanders, the provincial governments will soon lose their competence for cultural policy making (see chapter 5.2). It is still unclear what the consequences will be of this shift for the field of amateur arts.

At the end of 2009, the amateur arts sector presented the results of sociological research about the amateur arts in Flanders and Brussels ("Amateurkunsten in beeld gebracht", "A view on amateur arts"). Some highlights of this research, which combined different surveys (one with a representative sample of the Flemish population, another with members of amateur arts organisations) with additional research:

  • 37% of the population in Flanders and Brussels practice art in their leisure time. 27% practise art frequently. For Flanders, this amounts to more than 1.5 million amateur artists from different social and cultural backgrounds.Of the youngsters (14 to 17 years old), 75% practise art in their leisure time;
  • 51% of amateur artists practise art in an association, club or band. 34% practise art together with friends. Only 13% is mainly active on an individual basis;
  • amateur artists spend an average of 7.61 hours per week on their artistic activities;
  • 25% of amateur artists followed courses in the so called "part-time arts education"; 20% followed an arts course elsewhere;
  • friends are influential in introducing someone to the arts;
  • 1 out of 5 amateur artists spends more than 1 000 EUR yearly on their artistic activities (mainly costs for transport, materials and membership fees);
  • the respondents mainly associate the "amateur arts" with "enthusiasm" and "creativity". Most of the people say that they practise arts to relax or to develop themselves; and
  • people who practise arts are much more active as "receptive cultural participants". They visit museums and concerts more frequently… and read more than those who do not practise arts. Amateur artists are even more into sports than the non-amateur artists. Amateur artists are less individualistic, and have more solidarity than those who do not practise arts.

French-speaking Community of Belgium

Federations (15)

Amateur arts are essentially supported via the federations which act as umbrellas for local groups at either Community or Provincial level. These federations exist mainly in the field of music: musical societies such as brass bands, choirs, etc.; and in folklore: specifically, folk dancing; in the theatre and dialect theatre and in photography.

These federations represent a very large number of local associations which typically engage in their artistic practice and contribute towards local cultural life.

Centres of expression and creativity (180)

Centres of expression and creativity are local associations which engage in amateur artistic practices based around one or more artistic disciplines with a view to a project embedded in the social environment and with strong connections to the participants’ cultural and social concerns. These projects are generally picked up by artists and lead to a tangible public result.

We are currently witnessing the emergence of new forms of organisation (networks) and new artistic practices being explored by non-professional people or groups, such as writing workshops and urban cultural practices.

One particularly significant example of the development of an urban leadership project being managed artistically and involving citizen and creative participation is the Zinneke parade, a biennial event in Brussels featuring a procession of over 1 000 participants and attended by over 200 000 people.

German-speaking Community

Around 200 amateur arts associations are active in the areas of music, singing, theatre and dance. Several creative workshops are also held. Approximately 50 clubs are devoted to maintaining traditions, mainly in the form of carnival celebrations.

Chapter published: 16-01-2018

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