The Strategic Vision Statement for the Arts by Flemish Minister for Culture Jambon took inspiration from the Landscape Sketch of the Arts. How do the guidelines of the Vision Statement relate to the Landscape Sketch? Does the prescribed policy enable the arts field to make maximum use of its strengths? And can the arts field at the same time seize the opportunities it is presented with, minimize its weaknesses and avoid threats? We’ll find out.
1. The sustainable and dynamic arts landscape: Diversity in all respects”
The Flemish arts field has long made major efforts in the area of sustainability and diversity. In addition to these two broader societal challenges, the Landscape Sketch of the Arts (hereafter: LSS) identifies further challenges: these include gender equality, ethnic-cultural diversity, digitisation (the digital maturity of players in the arts field) and ecology. These are all issues about which interesting practices and insights are being developed, but which still require much work (LSS > weakness) ‘Social anchoring and inclusive work’).
The Vision Statement leaves open the definition of “diversity”. An approach that is as broad as possible is in line with the opportunity to work on greater social embedding and inclusivity on many fronts (LSS > opportunity ‘Inclusive work as a lever for the future’), all the more because the Vision Statement also calls for “the greatest possible diversity and inclusivity” in the arts sector.
Other social themes to which the sector attaches importance are addressed less or not at all: for example, we found few references to climate-conscious behaviour and (ecological) sustainability and the opportunities to innovate in this area (LSS > opportunity ‘Collaborating with other policy areas on sustainability and innovation’), except in the passages on design and infrastructure.
2. “A four-part structure within the ecosystem”
The current Arts Decree contains a range of instruments to support a wide variety of artistic initiatives (LSS > strength ‘Follow the actor: Room for artistic initiative’). The Vision Statement describes how this has helped the arts field to develop and notes that “artists, institutions and organisations […] in neighbouring countries are often encapsulated in less dynamic and rather traditional structures and institutes” (p. 6).
In addition to the strength of this flexible and open framework, the current system also has a weakness that the Vision Statement aims to address: the system offers few tools to examine balances within the landscape. Such balances include those between inflow, advancement and outflow, between disciplines, in the geographic distribution of the supply, etc. (LSS > weakness ‘Few tools for landscape care in the Arts Decree’; see also Guideline 3). In addition, we see that government resources for the arts are under pressure due to cost savings in successive legislatures (LSS > threat ‘Less willingness to invest on the part of governments’). The Vision Statement also states that it is looking in the first place at already available resources to implement policy initiatives (see pp. 3, 5, 6, 7, 11 and 20).
The proposed division into four categories and the stricter distinction made between subsidy types mark a difference with the logic behind the current Arts Decree (LSS strength ‘Follow the actor’). Where the points of departure for earlier decree changes were “openness” and “freedom from partitions”, here see precisely the creation of more partitions between categories. Further implementation of this guideline must prevent facilitating the dreaded rigidity of the arts landscape (Vision Statement p. 6).
The Vision Statement emphasises the importance of interdependencies in the field, with larger players also bearing greater responsibility to protect artists and to support smaller organisations. The guidelines for amending the Arts Decree, i.e. more resources for the Dynamic Space and the creation of a group of Core Institutions within an unchanged budgetary framework, suggest that a round of austerity measures is imminent at medium-sized organisations. Sufficient caution needs to be exercised here, since these organisations are an important link in the whole of the field. The medium-sized organisations are crucial to artists in developing, presenting and reflecting on their work (LSS > weakness ‘Pressure on development and reflection’).
Moreover, the lack of sufficient medium-sized players is a problem for many creative sectors (much more than just the subsidised arts sector; see LSS > p. 170 on the phenomenon of the missing middle).
In a few days, Flanders Arts Institute will publish a text that goes deeper into this restructuring of the Arts Decree.
3. “Uniqueness & landscape care”
The Strategic Vision Statement highlights the ‘uniqueness’ of projects or activities as a point of attention in assessing subsidy applications (p. 22). The idea of uniqueness is not addressed in the Landscape Sketch, but there is talk of a great need for Landscape Care (LSS > weakness ‘Few tools for landscape care in the Arts Decree’), by which we understand overseeing multiple balances, an idea that is well represented in the Vision Statement. For example, there is talk of “desired balances” (p. 10) between disciplines or genres, in regional distribution, and between functions that are dealt with the field. The latter is in line with LSS > weakness ‘Pressure on development and reflection’.
4. “The individual artist as the cornerstone of the landscape”
The Vision Statement takes to heart the precarious position of artists (literally LSS > weakness ‘The precarious position of artists’). Research shows that they struggle with low income levels and usually combine multiple jobs (within and outside the arts). This holding of multiple jobs is a symptom of the entrepreneurial attitude of artists (see also Guideline 7). Unfortunately, it also makes them particularly vulnerable (witness the impact of the corona crisis and #metoo) and puts pressure on the space for autonomous artistic creation (LSS > weakness ‘Pressure on development and reflection’).
5. “Excellence in innovation & mastery”
The minister wishes to strengthen projects and structural operations that work in an innovative and/or quality way with cultural heritage or diverse historical traditions and canons. Art is recognised as a form of research and development into “interpreting, updating, questioning or otherwise critically approaching heritage and traditions” (p.14) (LSS > strength “The creation of value and meaning”).
Attention to dealing with the past also means that efforts are being made in the area of art heritage. Archival care in the arts sector and dealing with legacies of contemporary artists (LSS > weakness ‘Pressure on development and reflection’) are challenges to be met. The Vision Statement also links art heritage to the digital transformation, as is also the case in the Landscape Sketch (LSS > p. 162).
The minister applauds the international exchange in all areas of the arts field (LSS > strength International exchange and transnational networks;LSS > opportunity ‘International significance and central location’).
Existing support measures may be strengthened (breakthrough trajectories, foreign venues) and possible new measures for development and presentation abroad developed. As in the Landscape Sketch (LSS > p. 192), here too the possibilities of cooperation with other policy domains are mentioned (think of cultural diplomacy in cooperation with Foreign Affairs).
The Landscape Sketch (LSS > strength ‘International exchange and transnational networks’ and LSS > opportunity ‘International significance and central location’) sees internationalisation as adding tremendous value for the arts and its audience. This added value comprises export, import and reputation. International exchange provides inspiration, which in turn can translate into artistic quality and innovation. Working internationally can bring prestige and recognition to the artistic players, new perspectives as well as economic and financial opportunities (think of co-productions), and it has a place in the career development of many makers. The LSS recognises that this added value of international activities for artistic practice can increase the reputation of Flanders; the Vision Statement sets this logical consequence as an objective.
Moreover, internationalisation does not have only positive consequences. Entanglement with other countries also makes the Flemish arts sector vulnerable to developments that transcend Flanders. Witness the impact of the corona crisis on our mobility and international diversification opportunities (LSS > threat ‘Pressure on internationalisation’ – also through climate-conscious action).
7. “Stimulating entrepreneurship in the arts sector”
The Vision Statement builds on the LSS > strength ‘Interaction with private initiatives’. Subsidised players usually obtain considerable resources from the market, and private initiative plays an important role in the artistic ecosystem (examples include galleries, publishers, music labels, hospitality services, assorted suppliers, tax shelters, etc.). An analysis of the financing mix of art organisations (LSS > p.168) shows that cooperation between subsidised and commercial players is by no means taboo, as the Strategic Vision Statement seems to suggest (p. 17). Apart from a reference to the structural market failure (see also LSS > weakness Market failure and increased cost of living) and a passage on market conformity, the Vision Statement pays little attention to the challenges in the private market for the arts sector (LSS > threat ‘Increasing inequality and volatility in the market’). Especially in the case of increasing pressure on government budgets and given the desire to strengthen public-private partnerships and coordination, these challenges can best be taken into account.
8. “Art as lever for community building”
The Vision Statement responds to the ambition of artists and art organisations to generate social impact (LSS > strength ‘The creation of value and meaning’). Efforts should primarily focus on young audiences, and different sections of the population should have easy access to quality art (LSS > threat ‘Motivation thresholds of the audience of the future’).
Through collaborations with initiatives in the policy areas of welfare and education, children can be meaningfully introduced to art at an early age (LSS > opportunity ‘Building participation together with education and local networks’).
Art organisations must invest in public relations and partnerships to broaden and deepen the bond with the audience (LSS > opportunity ‘Inclusive work as a lever for the future’). Artistic activities or projects that focus on involving children and youth have an advantage in the funding of subsidy applications. However, this is in tension with the subsidy requirement that projects or organisations have a sufficiently international orientation. How will the attention for art and its social impact within Flanders and Brussels relate to the Vision Statement’s main guideline on “Internationalisation”?
The Vision Statement also argues for a sufficiently broad geographical distribution of artistic initiatives at home and abroad (LSS > weakness ‘The (geographical distribution of) presentation options’). With regard to the distribution in Flanders and Brussels, the Vision Statement recognises cooperation with cities and municipalities as crucial (see also LSS > opportunity ‘Local and supra-local anchoring and networks’), although for this reason the policy accents are less elaborated than those for the international presence of our arts. Nevertheless, the distribution of arts offerings in Flanders and Brussels is a major concern, partly due to recent policy changes that impacted it (LSS > threat Governmental changes as a threat to geographic spread).
9. “Reducing the planning burden, administrative simplification and digitisation”
The Vision Statement highlights reduced planning burden as a priority in cultural policy. With regard to the Arts Decree, “[f]urther planning burden reduction and administrative simplification must be the ‘touchstone’ that is able to withstand any change in procedures” (p. 20). Here the crucial principles of intersubjectivity and a peer-to-peer approach (see Guideline 2) remain unaffected – they form the core aspects of the current subsidy system (LSS > strength ‘Follow the actor: Room for artistic initiative’) – as does the development of mechanisms for Landscape Care (LSS > weakness ‘Few tools for landscape care in the Arts Decree’). Efficiency is important, but when the situation involves the piecing together of artistic and landscape-wide puzzles, carefulness, thorough consultation, sufficient time and clear criteria are certainly a priority for a policy that aims to keep the artistic bar high.
The Strategic Vision Statement for the Arts 2020 offers tools for tackling almost all aspects of the strength-weakness analysis contained in the Landscape Sketch. In addition, the text remains at a strategic level, leaving room for consultation. And this consultation is also promised in the policy document.
There is still work to be done in certain areas. Strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities interlock. A guideline that focuses on strength can unexpectedly increase a weakness, and responding to an opportunity can have the side effect of increasing a threat. In the coming weeks, Flanders Arts Institute will therefore further uncover these relationships for a number of themes.
For the time being, we foresee an analysis of the impact of strengths and weaknesses on a four-part division of the arts field. We will also unravel the concept of ‘diversity’. After which we examine how the ambition to reduce the planning burden and make use of digitisation can be reconciled with changes to the assessment criteria in the context of Landscape Care.