An international perspective on arts venues

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Jorgen Karskens and Yannick Bouillis published the report of a study they conducted at the request of the Mondriaan Fund. The Fund asked them to investigate what we can learn from art venues in the countries surrounding us. How do they deal with the structural financing of visual art, with issues such as distribution or audience reach?

Karskens and Bouillis explored perspectives and practices of arts venues in France, Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. The research also offers insights into the role of government and the level of support offered abroad. The international framework emerging from this study originates, the Mondriaan Fund used to discuss the possible strengthening of Dutch art venues. 

Spending on culture 

Because each country keeps data in different ways, has its own definition of culture and not all data are equally accessible, it was difficult to make a unified comparison make. 

However, it could be concluded that France and Belgium spend the most on culture (in relation to Gross Domestic Product). These countries both also spend more than the European average. Germany is just below the European average, followed by the Netherlands. The United Kingdom spends proportionately the least on culture. 

Policy in Belgium is characterized by a complex interplay of governments that sometimes compete with each other. Governments share attention to international visibility and language in their policies. 

It could be concluded, however, that France and Belgium spend the most on culture

In Germany, cultural policy lies primarily with the federal states and the large cities. The approach is almost the opposite of France's: many of the art venues in Germany spring from their own initiative, explicitly motivated by an aversion to the (national) government. As a result, German art venues have a lot of support especially at the local level among both local governments, as businesses, benefactors and the public. 

Important focus within French policy is the dissemination of French culture both nationally and internationally. The Ministry of Culture takes a central guiding and strategic role in the implementation of the policy. What is striking about the French approach is not only the direct approach of the government, but also the experimental space within it. The national distribution of culture is also addressed in a direct way: the national and regional governments sit down with the FRACS (Fonds Régional d'Art Contemporain) to reach performance agreements. The approach of the French government results in little room for bottom-up initiated institutions to grow into an internationally relevant position unless your initiative is supported by a large private party. 

The United Kingdom is especially committed to building 'resilience' of its institutions by providing relatively low grants and providing the tools to achieve financial independence increase. These policies can produce an entrepreneurial attitude and relatively large financial returns. Fair pay of employees and freelancers is under pressure at arts venues. 

The researchers conclude that the difference between the countries lies mainly in what the government and art venues expect from their public art institutions, how they are funded and what the division of roles is. As for the Dutch situation, the an important question what the desirable relationship of public and private. The researchers also wonder to what extent the Dutch government should take more initiative itself in establishing art venues, or in housing institutions. For example, in the context of distribution, or to strengthen international competitiveness. 


On July 8, the symposium Visual arts at the heart of society took place with a panel discussion on the future of art venues in the Netherlands. Participants were Jordy Clemens (alderman for culture Heerlen), Touria Meliani (alderman for culture Amsterdam), Eva Postema (business director BAK/board member De Zaak Nu) and Joep Vossebeld (curator Odapark). 

Questions addressed were: what does the art stage look like of the future look like, what do culture makers and policymakers need for this, and what steps would we take today or be able to put tomorrow already. 

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