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Culturelink review, no.23/November 1997 - contents - imprint - archive

Privatization / Désétatisation and Culture

Limitations or Opportunities for Cultural Development in Europe?

Privatization in culture is at the centre of attention of many researchers in the cultural field, as well as of international organizations, particularly the Council of Europe. The CIRCLE Round Table devoted to this issue was organized by the CIRCLE Network (Cultural Information and Research Centres Liaison), the Boekman Foundation, the Felix Meritis Foundation, and Twente University. The Round Table was held in Amsterdam in June 1997.

During this international conference, the effects of different forms of privatization in the cultural sector in Europe were explored. Researchers, policy makers and representatives of museums, historic sites, theatres and operas, as well as of the book and film industry from Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA discussed cultural policy and the socio-economic processes of privatization.

Cultural institutions all over Europe are dependent on government subsidies, whose withdrawal can and does in many cases lead to such organizations being closed down entirely. Decreasing government control - a process also known as désétatisation - and cuts in state funding have led to a growing number of private initiatives on the part of artists and cultural managers, which offer new challenges and opportunities for cultural policy.

As J. Mark Schuster points out, "privatisation is an instrument, not an end in itself. Or, more precisely, privatisation is a family of instruments". However, experience in privatization differs from region to region and from country to country (e.g., the Swedish experience is different from the French or Spanish practices). That is why Schuster rightly concludes that "one should choose mechanisms that are appropriate for a particular place, a particular set of local circumstances, a particular history and a particular culture".

Peter B. Boorsma thinks that "the effects of privatization on the cultural sector are complex, but even when privatization is an unforeseen outcome of changing socio-political circumstances, it could have positive consequences and stimulate new cultural developments".

Cas Smithuijsen believes that "national cultural infrastructure for non-profit institutions can only be enlarged and consolidated when public and private forces succeed in working together".

The contributions by these three authors, as well as the concluding statements and recommendations resulting from the CIRCLE Round Table, make up the present Culturelink Dossier. The dossier is devoted to privatization since this issue is of great interest for many countries, and the Culturelink Network, thanks to its members, is in a position to distribute the findings on all the continents. The organizers of the Round Table will publish the proceedings. The Conference Reader, with country reports from 23 European countries and Canada, is also available at the Boekman Foundation.

Our special thanks are due to Mr. Cas Smithuijsen, Director of the Boekman Foundation, for his effort invested in the production of this dossier. We would also like to thank Professor Peter B. Boorsma and Mr. Jeremy Kendall, Editor of Voluntas, who kindly gave us the permission to reprint the article by Professor J. Mark Schuster.


  • Privatization and Culture: A Clarification of Concepts
    by Peter B. Boorsma
  • Privatization, Culture and Civil Society
    by J. Mark Schuster
  • Concluding Statements and Recommendations Resulting from the CIRCLE-Round Table 1997