“The social and economic importance of culture is invariably underestimated”

‘Does the accounting profit compare to the possible loss that lies in the future?’, writes Tom Garcia of Vista about the cancellation of project grants for the art sector in Antwerp. ‘Culture is the soul of society; can and will you just sacrifice it for the wallet?’

The cultural sector in Antwerp is protesting against the city council’s decision to cancel project grants for the arts sector for the next three years. According to the affected sector, a decision like this removes the fertile ground for the entire cultural ecosystem. Although it sounds quite dramatic, they have a point.

The decision is part of a larger round of savings, in which the city of Antwerp has to give up around 70 million euros to keep the budget out of the red zone. Everyone must make an effort for this, including the cultural sector. That is to say: The culture ships decide that culture must be saved. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with savings, we don’t think long term.

Mental well-being

Culture is often condescending, and artists are portrayed as airmen who ‘have to pay for their hobby with their own money’. But culture has social and economic value. In 2014, the University of Groningen published a comprehensive study on this topic under the title ‘The Value of Culture’. It clearly shows the influence of culture and creativity on society. For example, the study concludes that there is a positive correlation between the extent to which people participate in cultural activities (both active and passive) and their physical and mental health. Culture thus emerges as an important indicator of the general feeling of well-being.

Art and culture in general make us think about the past, present and future. It questions things, often holds up a mirror to us, sharpens our standards and values ​​and also teaches us to better understand others, both individuals and cultures. Culture brings us new insights and helps society develop. Culture and creativity are also the engines of innovation, the potting soil in which new ideas can flourish.

Culture also has a concrete economic meaning. On the website of the Flemish government’s culture, youth and media department, we can read that the cultural and creative sector creates work for 10.45% of the total number of self-employed people (in their main occupation) and for 6.3% of the total number of full-time employees employees in Flanders. These people produce tangible added value for the economy. Flemish game developers are highly sought after worldwide, our production houses make films and series that are admired internationally. Even our southern Walloon neighbors are wholesomely envious of the seemingly limitless creativity of our theater makers, screenwriters, writers, actors and directors.


Foreign examples show even more clearly that there is still great growth potential for our Flemish cultural and creative sector. To name just a few: Scandinavian series have been an important export product for years and thus provide additional income. Not so long ago, the world was introduced to the South Korean music phenomenon K-Pop. This very own genre is the product of years of state investment and has since grown into a multi-billion dollar industry that South Korea benefits from both economically and politically.


All this is therefore impossible if we drain the funding at the base, however small the intervention may turn out to be. The city council minimizes the impact, saying that the city spends 25 million euros a year in subsidies for Antwerp’s cultural sector, and that 684 million euros will go to culture in Antwerp throughout the mandate. Of this, ‘barely’ 720,000 euros are scrapped annually, as a small contribution to closing the gap in the Antwerp budget. But the question is: does the accounting profit stand in relation to the possible loss that lies in the future? Culture is the soul of society; can and will you just sacrifice it for the wallet?

To say that cuts in grants to young, start-up decision-makers will have only a minor impact is a gross underestimation of the importance of culture, both socially and economically. We’re also going to continue to support young start-ups, even if half of them don’t survive their first year? Flanders does not have much to export, but we have been known worldwide for our creativity and artistry for centuries. We must not only protect this, but also develop it further. It not only benefits our well-being, but also our prosperity. In economic terms, this is called ‘investing in the future’.

Tom Garcia, Co-Chair of Vista, Progressive Regionalist Party.

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