Through the ages, Flanders has been home to world-renowned painters such as Van Eyck, Rubens and Van Dyck. Flanders, however, also boasts a number of contemporary artists who have achieved international acclaim. Since the 1980s and 1990s, a great deal of revolutionary and pioneering work has occurred in the art world, fostered by individuals and institutions as well as the government, which gradually helped to enable an extensive professionalization of the cultural sector. If Flanders should pride itself on one thing, it would certainly be its longstanding cultural heritage and contemporary artistic practices.
THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPE IN FLANDERS
Over the centuries, many prominent Flemish artists have had a lasting impact and have inspired painters around the world. One only has to think of artists like Van Eyck, Hans Memling, Pieter Bruegel I, Pieter Paul Rubens, Sir Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens or, more recently, James Ensor, Constant Permeke and Magritte, to grasp Flanders’s contribution to the arts.
In the 15th century, the so-called Flemish Primitives were among the first artists in Europe to paint a detailed vision of the world around them. This is also true for an artist as Pieter Bruegel I, who is best known for his seasonal landscapes and seemingly comical depictions of peasant life. The Baroque style of the 17th century also yielded several important Old Masters, who cemented Flanders’ place in the history of art. This rich cultural heritage is still a strong part of the culture and is fundamentally supported by the community of Flanders. Therefore, since the inauguration of Cultural Heritage Day in 2008, collaborators in museums, archives, heritage libraries and regional geography and history groups have formed a network whose mission is to bundle expertise and to reach a wide audience.
Artists such .as Luc Tuymans and Jan Fabre have paved the way for the contemporary visual arts scene in Flanders by developing a visual language that has influenced artists both at home and abroad. Today, new generations of Flemish artists, curators and museum directors are omnipresent in museums, art centers and international biennials across the world. Flanders has an exceptional array of medium-sized visual art institutions, including MHKA and the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp, S.M.A.K. in Ghent, Mu.ZEE in Ostend and Bozar and Wiels in Brussels. There are also numerous experimental art spaces: Objectif Exhibitions in Antwerp, Netwerk in Aalst, Z33 in Hasselt and Argos in Brussels, each with a unique profile and remarkable exhibition programs. Flanders also counts a significant number of collectors who play an important role in supporting emerging and established artists and enriching the collections and exhibition programs of public museums. Art galleries form a vital part of the scene as well, with prestigious international galleries moving to, or opening a branch in Brussels.
The contemporary performing arts scene in Flanders is a dynamic landscape of high-quality artists and venues, creating theater and dance in all its forms. This dynamic scene is rooted in the 1980's, when globally influential theater makers as Jan Fabre, Jan Lauwers, Jan Decorte, Ivo Van Hove and Guy Cassiers, and choreographers such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Alain Platel and Wim Vandekeybus flooded the field with innovative choreography and theater, establishing their signature tradition, which in turn inspired new generations of groundbreaking artists. Performing artists in Flanders today create a wealth of hugely diverse performances, from repertory theatre and dance, to site-specific performances. Their work is rooted in a rich international practice of worldwide presentation and co-operation, showing openness to other disciplines and often integrating new media, visual arts, live music and contemporary writing.
More than 280 music festivals take place every year, in a variety of musical styles. Rock Werchter and Tomorrowland have received international acclaim and are widely considered among the best pop/rock and dance festivals in the world. While jazz aficionados fall in love with Ghent Jazz and Jazz Middelheim, Flanders also has an international reputation for its performances of early and classical music. Festivals like Laus Polyphoniae cherish the early music tradition of polyphonic music. The Festival of Flanders and the annual Queen Elisabeth Competition attract young musicians from around the world.
The architectural scene in Flanders and Brussels is one of the most vital in Europe. Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels are tourist destinations attracting international attention for their contemporary architecture. Moreover, architects from Flanders are frequently invited by internationally renowned art events such as the Biennial of Venice and the Oslo Architecture Triennial to serve as curators or make artistic contributions.
The extensive building production of quality in Flanders is truly remarkable. Architects from Flanders have developed innovative strategies for redeveloping former industrial sites and urban areas, and formulated new concepts for housing, infrastructure and leisure. These contemporary architects make it clear that architecture’s contribution to contemporary Flanders lies not just in its iconic buildings, but also in the careful yet imaginative handling of its building program and construction techniques.
Flanders is a prominent player in the world of design, from industrial and graphic design to jewelry and ceramics, and also enjoys a strong representation in the field of the applied arts. This rich tradition and excellence of design in Flanders is found in its various academies, design exhibitions and organizations, as well as design museums and centers such as those in Antwerp and Ghent. Flanders exudes design, and demands only the best from its designers. An icon of the design world in Flanders is Maarten Van Severen (1956-2005), who made history with his chairs, tables and cabinets. Other notable material designs include the ceramic elegance of Piet Stockmans, and, among the younger generation, Bram Boo’s playful colored furniture. Flanders also boasts internationally acclaimed jewelry designers and silversmiths such as Nedda El-Asmar and David Huycke.
Belgian fashion design is marked by its quality, innovation and high level of craftsmanship, and is recognized and celebrated around the world. The internationally renowned Antwerp Six, who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp in the 1980's, are still highly productive, both in Belgium and on an international level. Several of the Six are now fashion leaders with their own labels, such as Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Van Saene. Even though he did not study fashion primarily, Raf Simons has become Flanders’ most renowned fashion designer. Younger graduates such as Haider Ackermann and A.F. Vandervorst have also made their mark on the world stage. Brussels is a true fashion center which tends to displays a more avant-garde image than Flanders’ other design centers. The Brussels fashion academy La Cambre is at the pinnacle of the international fashion scene, with Kim Stumpf and Jean-Paul Lespagnard as notable alumni.
The film production landscape in Flanders has changed dramatically over the past 15 years. Most striking is the emergence of a new generation of creative talent, led by internationally acclaimed film directors as Michaël R Roskam, Felix van Groeningen and Erik Van Looy and actors such as Matthias Schoenaerts and Veerle Baetens. Animation studios in Flanders are expanding as well, developing ambitious projects of their own and participating in prestigious international productions. Driving this newfound vitality is a framework of incentives and other mechanisms that nurture local talent and make film productions possible. Creativity in Flanders also benefits from a thriving services sector, with several visual effects and digital post-production houses that are becoming significant international players. Companies such as Barco, a world leader in digital cinema projection, and Galaxy Studios, the business behind Auro-3D sound, are helping to revolutionize the cinema experience.
Aficionados of Flemish literature can certainly boast of its past, present and future: Flanders has a rich literary tradition, but also produces some of the finest contemporary Dutch-language literature. International attention for translations of prose, poetry, illustrated teenage and children’s literature, graphic novels, literary non-fiction and theater texts has risen sharply in recent decades. Comics and illustrated children’s books, for example, are a highly developed, distinct and well-known art form in Flanders and abroad. Drawing on the Belgian tradition set by the creators of Tintin and Gaston, comic artists from Flanders are refining their craft into art, and increasingly gaining international recognition. The same applies to illustrators from Flanders, who are renewing, adapting and expanding techniques established by our world-famous artists from the Middle Ages onwards. Although these artists share a common heritage, they all seek a straightforward, highly personal and recognizable style.
For specific questions related to these aforementioned disciplines, we refer you to the various official and specialized arts organizations in Flanders and Brussels.
The cultural diplomacy policy of the Government of Flanders:
- supports the cultural sector and creative industries in their international ambitions and networks;
- enhances the international visibility and reputation of Flanders through the arts and heritage sector;
- considers culture as a defender of values and believes in the international relations of Flanders and the European Union;
- fosters mutual understanding and trust in international relations.
The Delegation of Flanders to the USA wants to give Flemish artists a helping hand and does so in several ways. This can range from organizing a reception to highlighting a dance performance, supporting a festival that shows Flemish companies, to making publicity for an exhibition through our website and newsletter.
SUBSIDIES FOR FLEMISH ARTISTS AND ARTS ORGANIZATIONS
As of the new Arts Decree in 2016, the Government of Flanders offers two kinds of subsidies to support organizations and/or individuals that wish to present Flemish artists and art companies
- Project subsidy: supports costs linked to the presentation of artists, generally focused on travel, accommodation and transport. There are three deadlines for applications:
- January 15: projects starting from May 1
- May 15: projects starting from September1
- September 15: projects starting from January 1 the next year
- Subsidy for an international public presentation: a smaller scale subsidy for a maximum support of 7000 EURO. You can apply for this minimum two months in advance.
All applications have to be submitted via the online platform KIOSK