BesteBuren: Flanders and the Netherlands unite through culture


The Flemish and Dutch governments have agreed to funding of half a million euros for a year-long cultural collaboration

Everybody needs good neighbours

The Flemish and Dutch governments have joined forces to fund BesteBuren 2015, a programme that supports new cultural projects in Flanders and the Netherlands.

Organised by culture houses deBuren in Brussels and DutchCulture in Amsterdam, the programme provides €500,000 in funding. The 48 projects for the first six-month phase have been chosen, and all involve some form of collaboration between Flanders and the Netherlands.

BesteBuren celebrates 20 years of cultural agreement between the Netherlands and Flanders,” says Dorian van der Brempt (pictured), director of deBuren, explaining that the goal is to look at the future and ask: “What can be done even better?”

There were 147 applications for the first phase, and those that were accepted were chosen on three qualities: sustainability, innovation and a link between Flemish and Dutch people or organisations. The 48 projects chosen cover disciplines such as visual arts, theatre, dance, music, design, heritage, literature, film and circus.

They also vary greatly in size, from a collaboration between Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam and Ghent’s Design Museum, to the Babbelut children’s festival in Neerpelt, Limburg, which has teamed up with a partner in Amsterdam.

“We hope this year’s buzz will infect the art world with new connections, and that these new connections will create more collaboration in the future,” van der Brempt says. The deadline for the second (and final) call for projects in the second six-month phase, which begins next summer, is 1 February.

Cultural alliances

BesteBuren (Best Neighbours) marks the 20th anniversary of the Cultural Treaty Flanders-Netherlands, which was signed in Antwerp on 17 January, 1995. Under the treaty, the two regions agreed to work together closely in the areas of culture, education, science and welfare. 

Now theatre is a place where there is no longer a border between the Netherlands and Flanders

- Dorian van der Brempt

“Since 1995, Flanders has grown, and in the minds of the Flemish people, something has also changed regarding the relationship with the Netherlands,” van der Brempt says. He lived in Amsterdam in 1969 and says that “in those days, at least culturally, we thought the Netherlands was a more developed place than we were”.

But this gap has closed, and, over the past 20 years, Flanders has become one of the most important places in the world for innovation in theatre. “The Dutch got that message,” says van der Brempt. “Now theatre is a place where there is no longer a border between the Netherlands and Flanders.”

This is happening in literature, too, as in 2016 Flanders and the Netherlands will go to the Frankfurt Book Fair together, as a guest of honour. As van der Brempt puts it, “it’s not a country going to that fair, it’s a language”.

He argues that the nation state is a concept of the 19th and 20th centuries. “Now we have other concepts of state, nation and community,” he says. “The art community doesn’t live within borders.” 

Prime export

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is a prime example of culture crossing borders. The Antwerp choreographer now often works in London and has been received warmly by dance critics there. “In art, more and more, the quality of the artist is the first criteria when booking someone, not their nationality,” says van der Brempt.

The cultural exchange between Flanders and the Netherlands, and the unity created by a common language and high artistic quality, is at the heart of the BesteBuren programme. But speaking the same language is not always enough. The close vote in September’s referendum for Scotland to leave the UK was evidence of that.

But van der Brempt argues that language can also be a boon for co-operation and creativity. This is the side that BesteBuren embraces. Politically though, van der Brempt suggests it is time to “ask our politicians to think a little bit more about what’s binding us instead of focusing too much on what’s separating us”.

BesteBuren 2015 will launch on 8 February in Rotterdam and runs until February, 2016, when the final event is due to take place at deSingel arts centre in Antwerp. “Our cultural relationship is an open and strong one,” says van der Brempt. “I think that the Netherlands and Flanders are much more beautiful and have much more potential when they work together.”

Photo © Marianne Hommersom