The Belgian Landscape

Art making and the political system

By Katrien Reist

The structure of the Belgian constitution is, to express it mildly, complex. Too complex. So complex most people have given up on trying to comprehend it. Yet it is indispensable to understand how within this landscape policy is being developed, by whom and with what effect. Depending on where you operate, artists are likely to be confronted with the (conflicting) ambitions, political ideas and colours of six governments, no less than eight ministers and the extended governance structure of two community commissions.

Belgium is a Federal state
… and consists of Regions and Communities
… as well as of provinces and municipalities,
… and in Brussels these governance levels all pile up, both in French and Dutch…

Although the physical territories of the Regions and Communities (also referred to as the “language communities”) are almost identical, their competences are not. Since 1970, the Flemish, French and German communities have been independently responsible for culture. In the region of Brussels, both the French and Flemish communities are active. The region of Brussels itself does not have competences for culture. Yet with initiatives like KANAL and CIVA, they show ambition to develop this further in the future.

The communities subsidise the majority of cultural organisations. On the Dutch-speaking side, the Kunstendecreet (Arts Decree) and the Erfgoed Decreet (Heritage Decree) of the Flemish Community (VG) are the main frameworks for subsidies. The Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (FWB) supports cultural organisations through the various decrees and services of the Administration Générale de la Culture. Both community governments also have a minister for Brussels, who also supports cultural projects and organisations.


Next to this, there are the Community Commissions: the Flemish Community Commission (VGC), the French Community Commission (COCOF) and the Common Community Commission (GGC/COCOM). The latter – for now – has no cultural power. These commissions mainly assume ‘community powers’, like culture, education, welfare and health. The status of the commissions are not entirely the same on the Dutch and French-speaking side, but for cultural competence there is little difference: they can grant subsidies and draw attention to Brussels specificities, but they are under the tutelage of the community government and must respect and apply the decrees applicable there.

Brussels itself consists of 19 municipalities (gemeentes), that have their own cultural competences, infrastructure (like cultural centres, libraries etc.), projects and policies. Communities contribute to culture at municipal level in various ways. On the Dutch-speaking side, there is the Local Cultural Policy, within which Brussels municipalities receive extra Flemish support to develop a cultural policy (provided they have a cultural policy coordinator, library, cultural centre and at least one Dutch-speaking alderman). On the French-speaking side, cultural centres can appeal for co-financing by the community and the municipality, thanks to the decree on cultural centres.

In Brussels, some institutions remained dependent on the federal government after the creation of the communities. They are considered ‘common heritage’ and thus fall under ‘general interest’ for the country. The federal cultural institutions are La Monnaie/De Munt, Bozar and the National Orchestra. The federal institutions Royal Museums of Art and History, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and Royal Institute for Art Heritage fall under the responsibility of the Minister of Science.

In terms of labour laws and regulation, the federal government also has an impact on the financing of the cultural sector – just think of the Kunstwerkattest (former artists’ statute) or the tax shelter. In addition, the region plays an important role in terms of employment support, for example, through the GECO and Article 60 statutes. Other sectors outside the cultural sector also call on these measures.

Of course, Brussels is the seat of the European Commission, which cultural policy is increasingly important, especially with the initiation of the New European Bauhaus and an extended offer on subsidies. Belgian institutions can profit from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for the development of their infrastructure.