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Federal capitals and national cultural institutions. Lessons for Brussels from the examples of Berlin, Brasilia, Canberra and Ottawa

Capitales fédérales et institutions culturelles nationales. Leçons pour Bruxelles des exemples de Berlin, Brasilia, Canberra et Ottawa
Federale hoofdsteden en nationale culturele instellingen. Lessen voor Brussel uit de voorbeelden van Berlijn, Brasilia, Canberra en Ottowa
Arnaud Bouten et Karel Reybrouck
Traduction(s) :
Federale hoofdsteden en nationale culturele instellingen. Lessen voor Brussel uit de voorbeelden van Berlijn, Brasilia, Canberra en Ottowa [nl]
Capitales fédérales et institutions culturelles nationales. Leçons pour Bruxelles des exemples de Berlin, Brasilia, Canberra et Ottawa [fr]

Résumés

Compte tenu de l’évolution constante de la Belgique vers une plus grande décentralisation des compétences, le statut futur des institutions culturelles fédérales à Bruxelles demeure incertain. Afin d’élargir le champ du débat politique, le présent article présente une comparaison des configurations institutionnelles des institutions culturelles nationales dans différentes capitales fédérales. Les cas de Berlin, Brasília, Canberra, Ottawa et Bruxelles sont examinés, l’accent étant mis sur la répartition constitutionnelle des compétences et sur les mécanismes de coopération entre les niveaux de gouvernement. Cet état des lieux montre que le gouvernement fédéral joue invariablement un rôle dans l’administration des institutions culturelles nationales dans les différentes capitales. En outre, dans la plupart des capitales, des mécanismes de coopération culturelle sont mis en place pour coordonner l’action fédérale et celle des entités fédérées. Sur ce dernier point, il semble que des améliorations soient possibles à Bruxelles.

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Notes de l’auteur

This paper is the result of a research collaboration in the framework of the Joint Research Training as part of the Research Master of Laws (KU Leuven), pursued by Arnaud Bouten in the academic year 2020-2021.

Texte intégral

Introduction

1Traditionally, nations have used their capital city as a canvas on which to portray the nation’s history and heritage, and to convey a narrative of unity and shared purpose. Capitals have played a fundamental role in forging national identities. This explains why national governments around the world have taken a special interest in spatial planning, major infrastructure works and, most importantly, cultural policy in their capital cities [Paquette, 2019: 124].

  • 1 Brussels is a “multiple” capital in the sense that different governments consider the city as their (...)

2This has been no different in Brussels, a “multiple” capital where several different governments engage in cultural policy1. The first and historically most active stakeholder is the Belgian government, which created several national institutions in the capital throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries. These institutions include renowned research centres, theatres and museums with a long and rich history, e.g. the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, the AfricaMuseum, and the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences. The second and third governments weighing in on cultural policy in Brussels are the Flemish and French Communities, which both claim Brussels as their capital. Starting in 1970, the intra-Belgian devolution process handed a large part of the competence for culture to these federated entities. Consequently, the Flemish and French Communities developed separate cultural policies for Brussels, creating and funding their own cultural institutions. More recently, the complex nature of the Brussels cultural policy landscape has further increased, as the Brussels-Capital Region itself has also been granted specific cultural powers.

3Cultural differences lie at the heart of the original divide in Belgian institutional structure – it is no wonder that power over the future of the federal cultural institutions is coveted at various levels of government. As the Belgian federal government has been replaced as the leading government with regards to cultural policy, the question arises as to what should happen with the federal cultural institutions in the capital. The future of these federal remnants of the now devolved powers regarding cultural policy remains unclear. Els Witte described these institutions as a somewhat problematic political issue:

“The opposing visions of the place of these institutions in our federal model collide, the mutual attacks become more intense and the arguments more aggressive. […] It seems plausible that we have entered an important phase with regard to the future of these institutions.” [Witte, 2015: 2].

  • 2 Cooperation agreement of 6 February 2013 between the Flemish Community and the French Community on (...)

4Various options could be considered with respect to the future of the federal cultural institutions. The most radical option is the division and transfer of the national cultural institutions to the Communities, in a similar fashion to what happened with the Botanical Garden in Meise2. However, the collections stored in these cultural institutions are almost inseparable, as it is often very hard to link these works to either Community [Beumier and Brynaert, 2004: 5; Witte, 2015]. Less far-reaching proposals give the Communities a greater say in the management of the institutions, without depriving them of their federal status [Witte, 2015]. It must be noted that not solely the Communities can play a role in this regard. Indeed, the Sixth State Reform (2014) allowed the Brussels-Capital Region to develop its own cultural agenda. Given that all the federal institutions are located within Brussels (except for the AfricaMuseum in Tervuren), the Brussels-Capital Region will certainly want to be involved. Creative solutions involving different governments have been adopted in the past, for example in the case of the Flagey broadcasting building which was renovated via a co-investment by the Communities and the Brussels-Capital Region [Nassaux, 2012; Witte, 2015].

5In order to offer a starting point in the debate concerning the institutional course to take for the federal cultural institutions in Brussels, this article presents a comparative overview of federal cultural policy in federal capitals. This exercise could perharps stimulate or introduce new angles in the debate on the future of the federal cultural institutions. Prior to sketching a comparative overview of federal capitals, we develop an analytical framework for this comparison.

1. Analytical framework

6In order to compare the institutional set-up of cultural policy in different federal capitals, we first need to establish a framework for such a comparison. The framework developed by Bonet and Négrier serves as an appropriate example for comparing and analysing. This framework is based on five main lines of governmental analysis: the institutional configuration, the instruments of intervention, the distribution of competences by levels of government, the lobbying capacity of stakeholders and their logic, and the priorities, objectives and values of cultural policies [Bonet and Négrier, 2011]. This article focuses solely on Bonet and Négrier’s third main line by exploring the distribution of competences with respect to national cultural institutions in federal capitals. 

7The distribution of competences according to level of government ensures the level of autonomy a particular level of government is entitled to. This insight brings us to a second analytical framework: the classification of federal capitals according to the level of autonomy they enjoy, as discussed by Van Wynsberghe. She distinguishes three types of organisations of the capital, each ensuring a higher degree of autonomy than the previous one: the capital within jurisdiction of a state, the federal district, and the city-state [Van Wynsberghe, 2003: 65-68; Van Wynsberghe, 2014: 323-326; Rowat, 1970: 349-353]. In the first model, the capital is a city like any other in the country and is governed accordingly. A federal district, by contrast, is a sui generis federated entity within the federation, as it has less competences and less autonomy than other federated entities within that federation. Finally, when the capital is organised as a city-state, it becomes a federated entity with the same competences and autonomy as other federated entities. Each of the capital cities in our list will be classified within this tripartite framework.

8In addition, we rely on a classification tool that is covered in Paquette's seminal work, Cultural Policy and Federalism: the amount of (de)concentration of federal cultural institutions [Paquette, 2019: 134-138]. In some federations, all the federal cultural institutions are concentrated in the country’s capital (with Brussels being a notable example). In others, the capital hosts only a small number of federal cultural institutions, with the remainder scattered throughout the country.

9In what follows, we will investigate federal cultural policy in the cities of Berlin (Germany), Brasília (Brazil), Canberra (Australia) and Ottawa (Canada), before coming back to the Brussels model. The legal and institutional framework of federal cultural policy in these cities is described on the basis of legal or constitutional norms, policy documents and scientific publications. These cities are all positioned differently within the analytical framework: Berlin is a city-state with “deconcentrated” federal cultural institutions, Brasília is a federal district with “deconcentrated” federal cultural institutions, Canberra is a federal district with “concentrated” federal cultural institutions, and Ottawa is a city within the jurisdiction of a province with “concentrated” federal cultural institutions. Brussels, finally, is a city-state with “concentrated” federal cultural institutions. While the analysis of federal cultural policies in these capitals offers some insights or unveils certain tendencies (especially in the light of all these models fitting differently within the analytical framework), the hope is that it can ultimately provide useful insights for the debate on federal cultural policy in Brussels, and that it can be a starting point for additional research.

2. Cultural policy in federal capitals

2.1. Berlin, a city-state focusing on (inter)national promotion at the expense of local, urban cultural life?

  • 3 Art. 23(6) Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany.
  • 4 Art. 20(2) Constitution of Berlin.

10After the reunification of Germany, the country’s capital was moved to Berlin, which – using Van Wynsberghe’s typology – became a city-state in the German Bund [Van Wynsberghe, 2014: 324-326]. Notwithstanding recent evolutions towards the centralisation of powers in Germany, the bulk of competences relating to cultural matters remains at state level (the Länder) [Burns and Van der Will, 2003: 134; The Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, 2018: 4; Paquette, 2019: 39]3. In the city-state of Berlin, the Land government – the Senate – is primarily responsible for cultural policy [Anheier and Isar, 2008: 164; Paquette, 2019: 140-141]4.

11Since the German national cultural institutions are “deconcentrated”, the number of federally supported institutions in the capital is relatively limited. Two notable examples are the Deutsches Historisches Museum and the Jüdisches Museum Berlin. Other national institutions can be found in the former capital Bonn and in other big cities such as Munich, Leipzig and Frankfurt [Paquette, 2019: 135].

  • 5 Art. 22(1) Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany.

12However, this does not mean that federal support for culture in the capital is negligible. The German Basic Law states that the representation in the capital of the nation as a whole is a task that the Bund must observe5. In 2001, a Haupstadkulturvertrag (Capital Cultural Treaty) was concluded between the federal government and the Land of Berlin. The Treaty resulted in an annual contribution to Berlin’s cultural policy of 600 million euros by the federal government (in the year 2017 and onwards) [Anheier, Merkel and Winkler, 2021: 13]. The establishment of the Treaty recognises that certain institutions in the capital do not have merely a regional mission, but rather an (inter)national mission [Burns and Van der Will, 2003: 148]. The federal government also funds Berlin’s cultural policy by way of the Hauptstadtkulturfonds (Capital Cultural Fund) [Die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien, 2018: 5]. The Fund works as an arts council which supports the arts community in the capital directly [Paquette, 2019: 140-141].

  • 6 Moreover, the Bund explicitly continues to take up its role of promoting and focusing on events and (...)

13On the other hand, some authors point to the drawbacks of the far-reaching involvement of the federal government in Berlin’s cultural life. They argue that this results in a policy of supporting big cultural projects (e.g. the renovation of Museuminsel or the construction of the Humboldt Forum) – disregarding how these large-scale projects fit in Berlin’s cultural landscape. At the same time, small non-institutionalised cultural stakeholders and art producers are simply neglected. As a whole, they receive less than a two-percent share of the yearly cultural budget for project funding of the Berlin Senate Department for Culture [Merkel, 2016]. One could wonder whether promoting the city (inter)nationally happens at the expense of local, urban cultural life [Rapp, 2012; Anheier, Merkel and Winkler, 2021: 27]6.

14Other critical voices emanate from the other Länder in the German Bund. From their side, the critique is that the federal government invests too much in cultural policy in the capital, while they remain responsible for their own cultural infrastructure without such investments [Merkel, 2016]. However, such a criticism assumes that a federal government has no specific role to play in cultural policy in the capital; an assumption easily debunked when looking at other federal capitals. As the next case studies show, the federal government invariably assumes this role to a greater or lesser extent.

2.2. Brasília, a construed federal district symbolising cultural unification

  • 7 Art. 23, III-V & art. 24, VII & IX Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil.
  • 8 Art. 30, 9 Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

15In Brazil, the division of competences with respect to cultural policy is enshrined in the Constitution: legislative powers regarding culture are shared by the Union, the states and the municipalities7. The Constitution underscores that preservation of cultural heritage must be done at municipal level, as this is where historical and cultural value is most palpable8. However, in most aspects of cultural policy, no exclusive division of competences exists, which results in a concurrent exercise of powers by the different governments with the federal hierarchy as the only limitation [Pontes de Araujo and Villaroya, 2020].

  • 9 Art. 215 Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil.
  • 10 Art. 215, paragraph 3 Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

16In order to “ensure to all the full exercise of cultural rights and access to the sources of national culture”9 the Constitution prescribes a Plano Nacional de Cultura (National Cultural Plan) to be adopted. This is a multi-year plan “aimed at the cultural development of the country and the integration of government initiatives”10. With these provisions, cultural policy is established as an obligation for the federal government to fulfil.

  • 11 See Art. 216 A, paragraphs 3-4 Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

17Various types of regulatory interventions are applied in Brazilian cultural policies depending on the nature of the activities in question. Most of them fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. In budgetary terms, cultural policies are mainly implemented at the local and state levels, which together represent around 80 % of public cultural spending. This demonstrates the decentralised nature of the Brazilian model in which territorial authorities assume most of the responsibility for culture [Pontes de Araujo and Villaroya, 2020]. Nevertheless, the federal authority does play a leading role in Brazilian cultural policy: the states and municipalities derive from article 23 and 24 of the Constitution only a right to participate in the implementation of federally established cultural policy [Paquette, 2019: 53-54]11. Hence, cultural policy in Brazil is “nationally defined and regionally implemented” [Paquette, 2019: 188]. This should not come as too much of a surprise considering Brazil’s history of strong centralisation of power [Selcher, 1989]. 

  • 12 Including i.a. the Museu Nacional da República e da Biblioteca Nacional de Brasília.

18As regards the federal capital of the country, Brasília, these findings do not seem to hold true. Brasília is an engineered capital, established in the late 1950s as a federal district [Kaufmann, 2020: 1170]. The creation of a new capital from scratch in the Brazilian hinterland reflected an idea of cultural unification: “the unification of urban, Eurocentric coastal Brazil with that of the country’s autochthonous interior” [Stierli, 2013: 10]. Brasília’s recent and engineered status of national capital helps explain the low number of national cultural institutions situated there [Paquette, 2019: 128]12. The vast majority of national cultural institutions remain in the former capital, Rio de Janeiro [Paquette, 2019: 133 and 136].

19According to Van Wynsberghe's categorisation, a federal district presupposes a predominance of power for the federal authority within the territory of this district, which itself retains variable autonomy [Van Wynsberghe, 2014: 323-324. See Kaufmann, 2020: 1191]. In the domain of cultural policy in Brasília, this autonomy seems rather extensive: a Secretaria de Estado de Cultura do Distrito Federal – a secretariat comparable to a ministry of culture – has been established in the capital. In contrast to the modus operandi in the rest of the country, the federal government has given significant autonomous power to this local administration to manage the national cultural institutions situated in Brasília. As such, the capital “embodies a national mission in its local administration” [Paquette, 2019: 138]. At the same time, this local administration is aimed at the creation of “a cultural life that is distinctively regional” [Paquette, 2019: 143. See also Paquette, 2019: 127]. In conclusion, even if the cultural institutions in Brasília are recognised as being of national importance, they are administered at local level.²

2.3. Canberra, where federal cultural institutions are concentrated but intergovernmental cooperation is lacking

  • 13 Section 107 Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act.

20According to Australia’s Constitution, the states retain the legislative powers they had prior to joining the federation13. Therefore, cultural policy power is shared between the federal level and the state level, urging the adoption of intergovernmental cooperation mechanisms. The states have a leading role in these cooperation mechanisms compared to the federal level [Paquette, 2019: 48-49]. From 1985 onwards, cooperation has taken place in the Cultural Ministers Council (CMC), where the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – the district comprising Canberra – was also represented [Kyne and Morton, 2017: 5]. Since the CMC focused mostly on regional matters and interests, it was replaced in 2012 by the Meeting of Cultural Ministers (MCM), whose focus lies rather in Australian, nationwide cultural issues. Recently, however, discussions were held on the possible disbandment of the MCM as a forum where the arts ministers meet [Meeting of Cultural Ministers, 2020: 2].

  • 14 E.g., the Australian Museum in New South Wales (1827); the library and museum of South Australia (1 (...)
  • 15 Next to the aforementioned institutions, these include i.a. the Australian Institute of Aboriginal (...)

21Historically, when the Australian federation was formed in 1901, the different states already had their own cultural institutions, some dating back to the beginning of the 19th century14. In the post-war period, the federal government gradually developed an interest in cultural policy, mainly driven by two motives: the development of a rich cultural life in the capital and the commemoration of the Bicentennial of James Cook’s second landing in Australia in 1770. The National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the National Museum of Australia were created between 1968 and 1980. In contrast to Brazil, which only placed a limited number of national cultural institutions in its engineered capital Brasília, many cultural institutions were concentrated in Canberra15. These institutions are seen as having a key role in inter alia preserving and presenting Australian history and culture, expressing and exploring Australian national identity, and contributing to ACT’s economy (largely through tourism) [Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, 2019: 7-22].

22Canberra’s status as a federal district presupposes a predominance of power for the federal authority within the territory of the district, which itself retains variable autonomy [Van Wynsberghe, 2014: 323-324. See Kaufmann, 2020: 1191]. Yet, in cultural affairs, strong autonomy is given to the ACT administration. As such, an autonomous ministry is responsible for Arts and Culture in the ACT16. However, Canberra’s national cultural institutions are Australian Government entities which are accountable solely to the Australian Government and Commonwealth Parliament for their strategic direction, governance and use of publicly funded financial, physical and human resources [Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, 2019: 63]. 

23Over the course of 2019, the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories of the Commonwealth Parliament held a large-scale inquiry into Canberra's national institutions. The inquiry found that there is no formal channel for the ACT Government to engage with (the directors of) the national cultural institutions as a group. This is seen as a barrier to the development of common purpose and agreed high-level strategy aimed at promoting these institutions, which are generally understood to be Canberra’s greatest cultural assets [Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, 2018]. The Inquiry’s concluding report considers that the Australian Government should create a new consultative structure comprising senior representatives of each institution, including representatives from the National Capital Authority and the ACT Government. Such a structure could be used to develop collective strategic planning and policy; explore efficiencies, including sharing of resources; and provide for joint advocacy, negotiation and collaborative marketing efforts [Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, 2019: xviii].

2.4. Ottawa, federal cultural policy in the capital to reflect national culture, arts and heritage

  • 17 E.g., National Arts Centre, National Museum of Science and Technology.

24In Canada, cultural policy powers are shared between the federal and subnational levels of government [Paquette, 2019: 49]. An evolution not unlike Australia’s has taken place, with the federal level only taking an interest in cultural policy at a certain point in time. The subnational level already had flourishing cultural institutions prior to federation, and the federal administration only seriously engaged in cultural policy as of the 1960s, following the federal Massey Commission (1949-1951), which advocated a stronger federal presence in cultural policy. The driving motivation for this sudden engagement stemmed from a fear of Americanization, which was taking place in the private sector through the spread of “mass culture” [Upchurch, 2007: 241; Paquette, 2008: 298; Paquette, 2019: 87-88]. A definitive turning point was the year 1967, the Centennial of the Canadian federation, when the federal government established a few important national cultural institutions in its capital [Paquette, 2019: 34-35]17.

25Ottawa, Canada’s federal capital, lies within the jurisdiction of a subnational, provincial entity, Ontario [see Van Wynsberghe, 2014: 326]. Ottawa, as the location of the federal public services of Canada, is subject to a special treatment by the federal government. It is, however, mainly regulated by the provincial policies and standards [Paquette, 2019: 43].

26Ottawa was but a small city with a mere 10 000 inhabitants, when it was chosen in 1857 to become the capital of the newly formed Canadian federation [Gordon, 1998: 276]. It had a quasi-non-existent cultural life, prompting politicians to advocate the development of cultural institutions in the capital [Paquette, 2019: 129]. From the 1980s onwards, however, more and more voices advocated the development of national cultural institutions outside the capital or, in other terms, to “deconcentrate” and establish cultural institutions in other cities such as Halifax or Winnipeg [Paquette, 2019: 131, 138]. The underlying motivation was to democratise culture, granting access to a larger number of people to these national cultural institutions [Paquette, 2010: 385].

27Be that as it may, in Ottawa things evolved as in Canberra: national cultural institutions were concentrated in the national capital region as a means of reflecting national culture, arts and heritage [Paquette, 2019: 133]. In the Canadian case, collections were sometimes even relocated from other cities [Paquette, 2010: 379; Paquette, 2019: 137-138]. The concentration of national cultural institutions in the capital and the extent of federal support, has prompted the provincial government of Ontario to reallocate its means to other cities falling under its jurisdiction. This has been shown to negatively affect the local culture in the capital city [Agnew, 2016: 204-205], which is reminiscent of the Berlin case.

28In short, while the main stakeholders in cultural policy in Ottawa are the local authorities (with the provincial authorities concentrating their policy in other areas/cities), the federal authority created means of participating in this local cultural policy, as it attaches great importance to the development of the national cultural institutions in the capital. An example of the latter is the creation of the National Capital Commission as early as 1899. Through this Commission, the federal authority can fund and subsidise projects and institutions in the capital and its hinterland in line with its policy goals [Paquette, 2019: 144].

2.5. Brussels, a “multiple” capital where intergovernmental cooperation on cultural policy is not streamlined

29As mentioned, prior to the first Belgian state reform (1970), the national government developed its own cultural policy in the capital. Even though the bulk of cultural policy was later transferred to the federated entities, the federal government retained control over the national cultural institutions. All these institutions are concentrated in Brussels, with as a sole exception the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren (now renamed AfricaMuseum).

30The Belgian federalisation process is characterised by an ever-progressive devolution of powers resulting in a situation where, nowadays, cultural policy powers in the capital are shared amongst a wide variety of stakeholders.

  • 18 Art. 127 Belgian Constitution.

31First, the Flemish and French Community have been granted cultural powers in the city of Brussels18. This has led to the development of a distinct Flemish and French cultural policy in the capital. Moreover, in Brussels, the communities each have a decentralised institution under their control: the Flemish and French Community Commissions (Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie (VGC) and Commission communautaire française (COCOF)). These commissions can be considered “intermediates” which adapt community cultural legislation to the specificities of Brussels. When considering Brussels, it is important to acknowledge the bilingual and multicultural nature of the city as opposed to the unilingual, homogeneous regions for which the community legislation is largely adopted.

  • 19 Art. 135bis Belgian Constitution jo. art. 4bis Special Majority Law on the Brussels Institutions.

32Secondly, the Brussels-Capital Region obtained specific powers over cultural policy in the Sixth State Reform19. Unlike the Communities, which are supposed to implement policies for “their own communities” in Brussels, the Region is responsible for cultural matters that are not specific to one or the other community, but to the entire Brussels population. Its powers are limited, however, in that the Region can only regulate what is of “regional interest” (as opposed to what is of (inter)national interest). It is rather unclear where the dividing line between each interest lies [cf. Velaers 2014]. The new Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (“KANAL”) is a product of the Brussels-Capital Region urban cultural policy. Since the federal government was unwilling to exhibit its collection of modern and contemporary art in a new regional museum, even though this collection has been held in storage since 2011 [Vallet, 2018], KANAL signed a 10-year cooperation agreement with Centre Pompidou in Paris, inter alia to borrow artworks.

  • 20 It is difficult to know exactly which part municipalities play. A study edited in 2010 by the Frenc (...)

33Below these state levels, the nineteen municipalities that make up the Brussels-Capital Region hold specific powers to develop (local) cultural life too. This results in, for example, the creation of local cultural centres and libraries, of which there are oftentimes two per municipality – one aimed primarily at Dutch-speaking inhabitants of the municipality, the other at the French-speaking population20.

  • 21 Cultureel samenwerkingsakkoord van 7 december 2012 tussen de Vlaamse en de Franse Gemeenschap, BS 1 (...)
  • 22 Samenwerkingsakkoord van 15 september 1993 tussen de Federale Staat en het Brusselse Hoofdstedelijk (...)

34As such, a convoluted institutional structure is unveiled, perhaps even more complex than in the previously discussed capitals due to the role of bilingual Brussels as a shared, multiple capital city. Remarkably, consultative structures, in which cultural policy could be coordinated or streamlined amongst different governments, are lacking. In Brussels, it is sometimes said, everyone works “on their own island”, the only existing cooperation structures being rather ad hoc or not focusing on cultural policy specifically. An example of ad hoc collaboration is the Cultural Cooperation Agreement of 7 December 201221, which only brings together the Flemish and French Community. The goal of the Cultural Cooperation Agreement is to facilitate the setting up of “cross-community” cultural projects, as such transcending the existence of the distinct cultural policies of the communities, and instead developing cultural activities for the entire Brussels population [cf. Lowies and Schrobiltgen, 2016]. An example of a collaboration which does not solely focus on culture is the Beliris Cooperation Agreement22, “which concerns certain initiatives intended to promote the international role and function of the capital of Brussels”. This cooperation structure only involves the federal government and the Brussels-Capital Region.

35In conclusion, there is no defined unidirectional cultural policy in Brussels that involves all competent authorities. Cooperation takes place on an ad hoc basis, and never overarching, which leads to the lack of an integrated cultural policy vision for Brussels [Genard, Corijn, Francq and Schaut, 2009; Romainville, 2015: 1584-1586]. This also applies to the national cultural institutions that fall within the federal government's portfolio. The lack of cooperation between the different competent authorities in regard to these institutions has long been seen as problematic [Raad voor Cultuur 2005; Belgian Senate, 2014]. Moreover, the federal government has been accused of fulfilling its mission of managing these institutions and their collections only minimally [Vuye and Wouters, 2018: 166].

Conclusion: Key takeaways for Brussels

36Given Belgium’s continuing surge towards a greater devolution of powers, the future status of the federal cultural institutions in Brussels remains uncertain. To expand the scope of the political debate, this article provides an overview of the institutional setup behind the national cultural institutions in different federal capitals. Building on Bonet and Négrier’s framework, this article studies the constitutional distribution of powers and intergovernmental cooperation mechanisms specifically regarding national cultural policies in the federal capitals Berlin, Brasilia, Canberra, Ottawa and Brussels.

37Rather unsurprisingly, important differences exist between federal countries in terms of their respective national cultural policy traditions and the manners in which culture is governed. Canada and Australia, historically part of the British Empire, were formed by the association of self-governing colonies that already had a well-developed cultural sector at the time of unification. As museums, libraries and other cultural institutions already existed at the state level, state governments were better equipped than the newly established federal state to govern cultural matters. As Paquette observes, however, processes of nation formation within federations have profound implications for the cultural institutions in the capital, in particular their status, mission and funding [Paquette, 2019: 33-41]. In a bid to create a sense of national identity, a federal cultural policy gradually emerged both in Australia and Canada [Paquette, 2019: 37]. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in the centrifugal multinational federation of Belgium, national cultural institutions outdate the federalisation process. When cultural powers were transferred to the Communities, these national institutions proved impossible to divide along linguistic lines. Budgetary constraints and political disagreements on the future of the national cultural institutions explain the seeming federal negligence and the lack of an integrated, ambitious and long-term strategy for these institutions [Witte, 2015]. In this regard, it should be noted that commemorations can serve as catalysts for the development of federal cultural policy in the capital, e.g., the Bicentennial in Australia (1970) and the Centennial in Canada (1967). This is an interesting thought in the run-up to the bicentenary of the Belgian Revolution in 2030, particularly now that Brussels is a candidate for the European Capital of Culture 2030.

38A first takeaway from our comparative overview is that the federal government invariably plays a role in cultural policy in the capital. Even in federal systems where cultural affairs traditionally are the domain of the states or private stakeholders, the federal government has developed a national cultural policy over the course of time. This trend is observed not only in all the federations discussed above, but also in the United States [see e.g., Wyszomirksi, 2004: 479-480]. Even though the United States federal government historically has left the governing of cultural matters to state and private stakeholders, it did establish or gain participation in federal institutions in Washington DC, such as the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian Institution [see Perrone, 2004: 494-495]. The case studies of Berlin and Ottawa have shown that the presence of national cultural institutions in the capital, and the politicised nature of their activities and programming, risk overshadowing the local urban cultural scene. This reflects Agnew’s theory that a historically high degree of top-down planning in cultural policy in a federal capital might be detrimental to the development of urban cultural policy [Agnew, 2016: 204].

39A second takeaway is that regardless of the degree of concentration of federal cultural institutions, cooperation mechanisms are established to govern them. Reference can be made to the Capital Cultural Treaty in Berlin or the National Capital Commission in Ottawa. Thus, state governments are involved in federal cultural policy in the capital. Their involvement is explained by “the importance of the quality of life in [these cities] and [the] recognition of some distinctive regional elements that some capital cities may want to retain or promote” [Paquette, 2019: 143]. What is more, involving state governments in urban cultural policy can also be linked to the “entrepreneurial turn” which instrumentalises cultural policies “for other urban, economic or tourist objectives” [Rius-Ulldemolins and Klein, 2020: 934]. In Australia, the call by the Joint Standing Committee to establish new consultative structures to improve the management of national institutions in the capital fits perfectly in this trend towards reinforcing urban cultural policy by involving local stakeholders, not in the least because these institutions are key to ACT economy.

40Thirdly, in relation to the previous takeaway, comparison shows that invariably multiple levels of government are involved in cultural policy in the capital. The relation between these governments can have a dual or a more cooperative nature. Cultural policy in Germany and Brazil has a highly cooperative character, with the federal government and the states working together on cultural policy in the capital. The existence of the National Capital Commission in Ottawa fits in this cooperative trend. In Australia and Belgium various authorities are involved in cultural policy in the capital as well, but the institutional setup is fundamentally less cooperative. The federal government and the states conduct cultural policy in a dual fashion – side by side – and each government is exclusively responsible for its own cultural institutions and initiatives.

  • 23 Within the framework of the Beliris cooperation agreement of 15 September 1993, ministers of the Br (...)

41However, in Belgium, dynamics of cooperative federalism in cultural matters do exist (e.g., the federal-Brussels Beliris mechanism23 or the Cultural Cooperation Agreement between the Communities [Lowies and Schrobiltgen, 2016]), but cooperation remains rather scarce, ad hoc and optional. When it comes to the organisation and management of the national cultural institutions, institutional cooperation with the Communities and Brussels-Capital Region is inexistent, as the example of KANAL has illustrated. This observation echoes the report of the Joint Standing Committee’s inquiry in Australia, where the absence of a formal cooperation mechanism is seen as a barrier to developing a common purpose and agreed high-level strategy aimed at promoting the national cultural institutions in Canberra. To resolve this issue, the Australian Government was urged to convene a new consultative structure comprising representatives of both the federal and the state government. Belgian policymakers should keep a close eye on the developments towards greater cooperation in Canberra, as they may provide an interesting option for the future of federal cultural institutions in Brussels.

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Notes

1 Brussels is a “multiple” capital in the sense that different governments consider the city as their capital.

2 Cooperation agreement of 6 February 2013 between the Flemish Community and the French Community on the management and functioning of the "National Botanic Garden of Belgium”.

3 Art. 23(6) Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany.

4 Art. 20(2) Constitution of Berlin.

5 Art. 22(1) Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany.

6 Moreover, the Bund explicitly continues to take up its role of promoting and focusing on events and organisations with (inter)national “radiation”, see Die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien, 2020: 32.

7 Art. 23, III-V & art. 24, VII & IX Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

8 Art. 30, 9 Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

9 Art. 215 Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

10 Art. 215, paragraph 3 Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

11 See Art. 216 A, paragraphs 3-4 Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

12 Including i.a. the Museu Nacional da República e da Biblioteca Nacional de Brasília.

13 Section 107 Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act.

14 E.g., the Australian Museum in New South Wales (1827); the library and museum of South Australia (1834).

15 Next to the aforementioned institutions, these include i.a. the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, the Australian National Botanic Gardens and the National Portrait Gallery. Only a few national institutions, such as the Australian National Maritime Museum, are not located in the city. See Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, 2019: 4-5.

16 See https://www.arts.act.gov.au/about-us.

17 E.g., National Arts Centre, National Museum of Science and Technology.

18 Art. 127 Belgian Constitution.

19 Art. 135bis Belgian Constitution jo. art. 4bis Special Majority Law on the Brussels Institutions.

20 It is difficult to know exactly which part municipalities play. A study edited in 2010 by the French Community estimated the proportion of the public cultural budget coming from the municipalities and provinces at almost 40 % [Communauté française, 2010].

21 Cultureel samenwerkingsakkoord van 7 december 2012 tussen de Vlaamse en de Franse Gemeenschap, BS 13 December 2013, 98 660

22 Samenwerkingsakkoord van 15 september 1993 tussen de Federale Staat en het Brusselse Hoofdstedelijk Gewest met betrekking tot bepaalde initiatieven bestemd om de internationale rol en de functie van de hoofdstad van Brussel te bevorderen, BS 30 November 1993.

23 Within the framework of the Beliris cooperation agreement of 15 September 1993, ministers of the Brussels Government and federal ministers discuss the use of federal funds allocated towards financing the international role of Brussels and its function as capital.

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Arnaud Bouten et Karel Reybrouck, « Federal capitals and national cultural institutions. Lessons for Brussels from the examples of Berlin, Brasilia, Canberra and Ottawa  »Brussels Studies [En ligne], Collection générale, n° 178, mis en ligne le 26 mars 2023, consulté le 25 mai 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/6685 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/brussels.6685

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Auteurs

Arnaud Bouten

Arnaud Bouten studied Law at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. His Master Thesis focused on the institutional organisation of cultural policy in Brussels, from both a legal and practical point of view. As of September 2021 Arnaud is a member of the Brussels Bar, while simultaneously specialising further in Intellectual Property and ICT Law through the KU Leuven’s Advanced Master program.

Karel Reybrouck

Karel Reybrouck is a postdoctoral researcher at the Leuven Centre for Public Law. In September 2022, Karel successfully defended his doctoral thesis on the division of powers in federal systems. He co-authored a manuscript on the federal powers in Belgium (Intersentia, 2019) with his promotor Stefan Sottiaux. He conducted research at Eurac (2022), NUS (2020) and at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (2018).

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