De Raad voor Cultuur is het wettelijke adviesorgaan van de regering en het parlement op het terrein van kunst, cultuur en media. De raad is onafhankelijk en adviseert, gevraagd en ongevraagd, over actuele beleidskwesties en subsidieaanvragen.

The future of the Basic Infrastructure for Culture

The Basic Infrastructure for Culture 2017–2020 (BIS) is notable for its continuity. There are no marked changes compared to the previous policy period. Following times of austerity and cutbacks, the minister has opted for calm and stability. Although the Council sees the merits of this approach, we believe that the nature and composition of the BIS should now be re examined with a view to the longer term.

Review is necessary because successive budget reductions and political interventions have eroded the cohesion of the BIS. In some sectors, no clear distinction can be seen between BIS organizations and those which are financed from other sources such as the private funds. Cultural institutions active in the same arena have different funding arrangements. The orchestras which are recognized as part of the BIS, for example, are not the only contributors to the musical life of the Netherlands. In the museum sector, the BIS-subsidized institutions show a high degree of homogeneity. Many important museums which specialize in, say, modern art are not funded by central government but by provincial or municipal authorities. Some sectors are not represented within the BIS at all. They include e-culture organizations, those concerned with architectural heritage, debating events, and some areas of the performing arts such as non-orchestral music and circus theatre. In short, the current BIS does not fully reflect the range or level of cultural amenities that the Netherlands must offer.

In the Council’s opinion, the coming period should be used to clarify the role and function of the BIS, which should be more closely aligned with local culture policy. We have formulated three action lines intended to promote an informed discussion and arrive at a clear vision of the BIS for the period 2021 to 2024.

Towards a new BIS: sector descriptions and sector-specific advice

In recent years, much attention has been devoted to developments which are relevant to all aspects of culture, such as budget cuts, public outreach, employment opportunity, digitization, talent development and cultural education. The Council has considered these themes in various reports, including the Cultuurverkenning (National Culture Survey) and the Agenda for Culture. Both call for the ‘fences’ between disciplines to be lowered: there must be far greater integration and cohesion. The next National Culture Survey is due in 2018. To determine which functions and amenities should be included in the basic infrastructure, it is necessary to gain a clear understanding of the developments within all disciplines.

It is now five years since the Council produced a series of sector analyses. We are often asked to repeat the process. Although the Council is willing to re-examine the various disciplines, we believe that there is much to be gained from doing so as part of a collaborative process in which the sector organizations, funding bodies, knowledge institutes, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) and other public sector authorities are full and active partners.

Towards a new BIS: support functions

Alongside the primary functions of production and presentation, the basic infrastructure includes a number of support functions. These functions have traditionally been performed by sectoral institutes such as Premsela, the Netherlands Theatre Institute and the Netherlands Architecture Institute. Since 2013, however, many of these institutes have been merged or dissolved due to budgetary considerations. The BIS 2017–2020 provides for only general, cross-sectoral support functions in areas such as research, digitization, cultural education, internationalization and creative industry.

The Council considers some support functions to be essential to the effective performance of the cultural infrastructure. Before we are able to make any firm statements, however, we must gain a more complete picture of the actual demand and ‘client base’ for these functions. The manner in which the available budget is divided between the various institutions is perhaps understandable in a historical perspective, but is sometimes difficult to justify in today’s setting. In the Council’s view, the current funding arrangements and the assessment framework in use are not fit for purpose when considering applications which relate to support functions.

The Council is encouraged to note that the minister intends to examine the current support structure with a view to optimization. A preliminary study will be conducted whereupon the Council will be asked to return its advice. The minister has already requested the Council to formulate the terms of reference for the analysis itself. Our suggestions are as follows.

Demand analysis

• What support functions does the field consider necessary?
• What are the potential target groups or user groups for each function, at both the national and regional level?
• What specific services and/or activities will be expected from each support function?

Client evaluation

• How do the clients (or other users) of the support organizations rate the services and products they provide?
• To what extent are potential users willing to pay for certain services?

International and intersectoral comparison

• How have other countries organized their support functions?
• How are the support functions structured in other sectors?

Towards a new BIS: the relationship between central government, lower levels of government and the funding bodies

The Council is encouraged to note that its advice with regard to the role of the cities in forming ‘metropolitan cultural regions’ has been well received by the ministry, lower levels of government and the relevant cultural organizations. In essence, the Council is calling for choices made at the city level to be given greater weight within national culture policy. We do so for two reasons.

First, the city at the centre of a metropolitan region has a far better understanding of the local population, their interests and the demand for cultural amenities. This is important, since cultural amenities do much to establish the identity of a town, city or province. They contribute to the quality of life and the sense of community, particularly in smaller towns or neighbourhoods, and they help to create an attractive business and investment climate. Every metropolitan region has the opportunity to profile itself by adopting specific focal points within its cultural policy. It can present itself as an attractive destination for tourism and leisure, as an incubator for creative talent, or as a treasure house for those with a fascination for history and heritage. The Council sees many opportunities for cooperation within each region, both between cultural institutions and between culture and other social domains.

Second, the Council believes that a system which centres on the metropolitan region will resolve, or at least alleviate, a number of the problems associated with current policy. At present, policy has an overly national orientation. Moreover, it addresses individual institutions in isolation, devoting little attention to cohesion between the various cultural amenities. Policy and funding flows are not mutually reinforcing. The current covenants between the government and the field have not been able to solve this problem. The Council believes that devoting close attention to regional choices within national policy will foster a highly constructive discussion about the significance of culture and how cultural amenities are to be organized.

In its Agenda for Culture, the Council called for an examination of ways in which the choices at regional level can be given greater weight within national policy. We are heartened to note that this process is now underway. The minister and the culture portfolio-holders of each of the G9 cities – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Groningen, Arnhem, Enschede and Maastricht – are to explore opportunities for closer cooperation. Provincial authorities have also agreed to examine their role within the cultural infrastructure of the urban regions. Many provinces, particularly those outside the Randstad conurbation, have launched promising initiatives in this regard. The Council is most gratified to note that the Association of Provinces of the Netherlands (IPO) has reinstated ‘Art and Culture’ as a specific topic within its long-term strategic agenda (after an absence of several years).

During the past year, several interesting initiatives have come to the Council’s attention. The ‘We the North’ programme is a cooperative alliance between the three northernmost provinces of the Netherlands and four of their larger cities: Assen, Emmen, Groningen and Leeuwarden. Elsewhere, the provinces of Overijssel and Gelderland were among the contributors to the Cultural Manifesto for the Eastern Netherlands, in which the focus is on the metropolitan regions of Arnhem and Enschede. In Arnhem itself, the manifesto has spawned the ‘Lauwersgracht Alliance’, a close-knit partnership between various performing arts organizations. The Council notes that the activity plans published by the BIS organizations in these regions devote attention to collaborative partnerships.

There is now a nationwide movement to further the development of the metropolitan cultural regions. Amsterdam has expressed a desire for greater cohesion in culture policy for the region, and similar ambitions are evident in The Hague and Utrecht. In 2015, Rotterdam launched a daring experiment in which the field and the general public were invited to help in devising its culture policy. This radical ‘bottom-up’ approach has generated many interesting new insights. In Limburg, a preliminary study is exploring the possible expansion of the cultural region, which currently comprises Heerlen, Sittard-Geleen and Maastricht, to include nearby cities in Belgium and Germany. The Province of Noord-Brabant has discussed the production of a cohesive culture policy for the five largest cities in the region.

In the Council’s opinion, these and similar initiatives pave the way for the process to be taken further. We therefore propose the following action.

• The minister should meet with lower levels of government and the funding bodies to discuss the division of responsibilities for culture policy. What aspects should remain the purview of central government, and which can be decided by regional or local authorities?
• All parties should agree on the criteria that the cultural infrastructure of a metropolitan region must meet.
• Invite each region to produce plans for an infrastructure which enjoys the support and commitment of the cultural institutions, public sector authorities, market parties and societal organizations.
• In addition to the direct funding of BIS institutions, provide financial support in respect of plans and activities implemented by the metropolitan regions, subject to conditions established by central government.

Following a period of exploration and experiment, the Council believes that it is now time to introduce direction and coordination to the ongoing regional initiatives. The policy options outlined above in further detail should now be elaborated and refined. Accordingly, the Council advises the minister to form a consultative body comprising representatives of the various levels of government and all other relevant parties with the intention of arriving at a shared vision of the cultural infrastructure in 2021 and beyond. A broad examination of ongoing initiatives and the policy instruments which have proven successful will facilitate this process.

In 2019, the Council is due to advise on the main points of culture policy. We would be happy to do so in response to a request for advice submitted jointly by central government and the regional or local authorities. As an intermediate step, we propose the production of an advisory examining the policy options which would allow the metropolitan region to take a more prominent role in culture policy. This advisory could follow later this year.

Concluding remarks

The results of the three lines of action described above will provide the building blocks of a new description of the cultural infrastructure, and one which takes full account of the policy choices of the urban regions and funding bodies.

We are about to embark on an important transition. It is now necessary to establish the preconditions for a flourishing cultural life. In the artistic sphere, the coming period is one to which the Council is looking forward with eager anticipation. The subsidy applications we have assessed thus far confirm that the Netherlands has an extremely diverse range of artistic endeavour at the very highest level. Our earnest hope is that the various events, exhibitions, performances and other activities are experienced and enjoyed by as many people as possible.