VUB examines grants for Brussels

VUB examines grants for Brussels

Sector requires more attention to diversity and less fragmentation

Commissioned by the Flemish Minister for Brussels, Benjamin Dalle, researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Erasmus Hogeschool Brussel have evaluated subsidies allocated under the Flemish government’s “projects for Brussels” grant. Over the past 24 years, the grant has led to a wide range of projects including festivals, city walks, educational initiatives, support into work and civic education. Large institutions such as Bruzz, Muntpunt, AB and Couleur Café receive subsidies via this line, as do smaller organisations such as BX Brussels, Circus Zonder Handen, Growfunding, Volta and Cultureghem. “The results of the research show that the sector requires more attention to diversity, in order to achieve more innovation and facilitate young, new organisations. Furthermore, the sector believes that better cooperation between the various organisations can prevent the current fragmentation. It also wants more grants for small bottom-up initiatives,” says researcher Dr Minne Huysmans.

The evaluation took place via a participatory process in which Brussels’ socio-cultural and artistic sector was questioned via a quantitative survey, qualitative focus groups and participatory workshops. The survey asked a number of questions about the subsidy: Are the right objectives formulated? What impact does the subsidy have? Are the existing categories and criteria clear? Are the guidance, allocation and final evaluation good? In short, is the subsidy in tune with Brussels’ needs?

The survey was completed by organisations that requested and received financial support from the subsidy over the past three years. A total of 86 organisations were contacted, 57% of which completed the survey. In a second round, various focus groups were organised to gain more insight into the social role of the subsidy and the current challenges in and for Brussels. For this purpose 44 pre-selected organisations were contacted. A total of 32 respondents from 32 organisations participated in six focus groups, of four to six participants. In a final phase, based on the results of the focus groups, three thematic workshops were organised with the aim of honing the experiences, needs and recommendations gathered from the surveys and converting them into policy recommendations. The total number of participants in the workshops was 31.

This broadly supported sectoral survey shows that Brussels is perceived as a complex and layered city with various challenges that are characteristic of a metropolis (social inequality, youth unemployment, limited mobility across neighbourhoods, exclusion mechanisms, etc). Attention to these challenges means attention to diversity. Diversity is therefore not only cited as a description of the reality in Brussels, but also as a challenge for the subsidy: according to the respondents, more attention to diversity contributes to innovation and change within the operation of the subsidy. Moreover, it could facilitate the participation of young and new organisations.

A second point of attention is the importance of networks and collaborations. Both organisations and policy in Brussels benefit from a better connection. This means connections between authorities and organisations, between different authorities and between organisations themselves. The lack of these networks and collaborations too often leads to fragmentation. In addition, the importance of networks and partnerships is cited as a foundation for stimulating diversity. By working in a more inclusive way, young, new and other organisations can also connect more closely to the subsidy.

The Brussels reality is not viewed in isolation from the Flemish reality, although the two worlds are not identical. The relationship between Flanders and Brussels is instead described as one of tension, because of the difference in perception, culture and politics. Incorporating and propagating the connection between the two in projects or operations is not always obvious. The sector receives more funding for projects that focus on a Flemish presence in Brussels, but this does not always provide the necessary attention to diversity. The sector therefore points to the importance of interaction and a reciprocal relationship.

A final important point is funding: the sector would welcome a new reflection on the distribution of resources. A large proportion of the funds are spent, time and again, on the same projects. This sometimes leaves too little budgetary room for new projects and the associated project financing.

In the coming months, Dalle’s cabinet and administration will work with the findings of the study to update and focus the subsidy. A new grant line will be launched on 1 January. A total of 50 organisations were supported in 2019 to the tune of €1,963,700. Dalle is satisfied with the project. “Our Brussels organisations deserve support, especially today,” he says. “The corona crisis is also making things far from easy for them. With the renewed subsidy, we want, more than ever, to give them the support and investment needed to make our capital city a city where everyone can be themselves and grow into the best version of themselves.”

The results of the research conducted by VUB researchers Dr Minne Huysmans, Dr Pieter Meurs, Prof Dominique Verté and Steven Degraeve of Erasmus Hogeschool Brussel were presented in an online session on 10 November. More information can be found here.


Minne Huysmans

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