Culture and knowledge

On this page we describe the need and possibilities to make better use of practical knowledge and informal cultural practices. Authors: Janina Pigaht, Jasmin Sharif and Rogier Brom


The Culture Monitor brings together a diverse range of knowledge about the cultural and creative sector. As the name indicates, the function of the Culture Monitor is largely to map developments based on monitoring. One way to do this is to look back and represent the (recent) past as factually as possible. That is why we collect long-term datasets in the Culture Monitor that are accessible via the online dashboard. At the same time, the function of the Culture Monitor as an instrument goes further than that; it is also an instrument for knowledge development that creates a knowledge base within and about the sector. This means that in addition to the past, we also look critically at the present in order to be able to make a realistic assessment of future knowledge needs from that position.

The knowledge cycle: identifying, developing, sharing

The Culture Monitor plays an important role within what we consider a knowledge cycle. Existing datasets come together in a central location in the monitor, building an overarching picture of the sector. We add in-depth insights and knowledge from the programs and other activities. The components thus form part of the knowledge cycle in mutual coherence. This cycle consists of three phases that together ensure that knowledge continues to develop.

This involves signaling, which provides insight into what knowledge needs there are. It also indicates the issue to which knowledge must relate. New knowledge is then developed through research and collaborative projects in which underexposed or missing knowledge and knowledge infrastructures are explored in depth. By sharing this knowledge in a way that invites interaction, we look for follow-up questions. These questions provide insights to once again identify where the knowledge needs lie. It is necessary for ourselves and the partners involved to continue to look critically at the knowledge infrastructure that is being built up. In addition, it requires that we continue to be careful not to limit ourselves to the institutional infrastructure that governments have in mind.

Deepening data

The long-term datasets that are made available in the Culture Monitor provide concrete tools to discover trends that invite in-depth research. This can be in a very specific area, but also on a more transcendent level. For example, we see that government expenditure on culture has been on an upward trend since 2015, which skyrocketed during corona due to the specific support measures. At the same time, it can be seen that these budgets are increasingly distributed through the cultural funds. During the corona period, it can also be seen that municipal expenditure on culture is also increasing, while the provinces have started to spend less on culture. This could be a consequence of the unclear position of provinces within the cultural system, which recently gave the Interprovincial Consultation (IPO) reason to call Berenschot a vision on this role to be worked out. 

Public spending on culture

Indexed (2019=100)

Annual reports OCW and Customized table CBS

It is also important to bundle insights from different domains. For example, visitor figures for parts of the sector are published through trade organizations and CBS, but when these are compared, it becomes clearer what broad developments are. It was clear that participation in cultural life decreased in many places during corona, but how will this be recovered across the board? And where are trends from before the pandemic returning and where are they not?

Visit to cultural organizations



In addition to these types of existing datasets, it is important to work on new data for current developments. This creates new data sets to visualize developments for which data are missing. In the field of sustainability We see from a study we conducted in both 2019 and 2022 that the cultural and creative sector has not become structurally more sustainable in the intervening years or has made this a structural part of its business operations. Also through it cultural life in different provinces in a comparable way, it became clear that provinces have different profiles. This invites further exploration. In regional projects such as Value of culture in Brabant researchers then work on new methods to uncover knowledge that deepen and enrich the profiles.

There is also a great need for data on representation in the field of diversity, equality and inclusion. Organizations want to know how they are doing so that the policy can be adjusted accordingly. The underlying problems must be specifically identified in order to clarify the insights that are being sought. This concerns exclusion and racism, sexism and discrimination: research and figures are important to expose these problems more precisely and thus contribute to a better way of dealing with them. Then there is the question of how equality should be measured. The why is also a question. For example, organizations regularly choose, for moral reasons, not to ask their staff about their background and not to measure this. There are currently no quantitative, long-term data available on the representation of society in the cultural sector. But without monitoring this data, progress cannot be visualized, which is necessary. This currently mainly involves tailor-made solutions, often in the form of qualitative research. Topics discussed include transgressive behavior, gender inequality, social safety, accessibility for people with disabilities, and the 'degree of diversity' or representation.


Moreover, as researchers we often encounter an imbalance in the type of data that is available. Among available data and new data that are useful for monitoring, data on institutionalized – or also formal – culture is by far in the majority. The available data often comes from cultural providers, who have also connected with the parts of cultural life that can be described as the cultural system world (policy, government, municipalities, funds, advisory councils, research). Although there are initiatives that portray a broader concept of culture, for example Culture Concrete, accountability data from these organizations remains the most extensive source of mutually comparable data. There is therefore too often a lack of perspectives from participants and forms of culture that follow a different form and logic than is often used as the norm. The Boekman Foundation will therefore focus more heavily on a better understanding of informal developments and alternative forms of knowledge and on giving them a place in the knowledge base that is made accessible via the Culture Monitor, more about which later. This is in line with a broader trend in which not only a broader understanding of culture, but also a critical view of knowledge structures is emerging.

A culture and knowledge shift

Where does knowledge arise? From which disciplines, structures and places? How does this knowledge find its way to the cultural and creative sector and then translate into policy? Within various domains in the Culture Monitor we see that a shift is taking place: from an “expert”-driven interpretation of culture to a broader and participatory form of cultural understanding, in which policy plays an important role in the perception thereof. See, for example, the Treaty of Faro, in which the perceived urgency and growth of initiatives regarding polyphony and the increasing interest in intangible heritage is visible. This shift suggests a critical attitude towards the dominant ideas about knowledge and culture that underlie hierarchical culture and knowledge appreciation and the way in which policy is designed accordingly. Which forms of culture are not recognized and therefore do not receive attention and are therefore no longer subsidized? In other words: which forms of culture are recognized within (research into) cultural policy and which are not?

Within the system world of art and culture, culture is often viewed from so-called 'recognized' locations (museums, theater, cinema, festival grounds) or at home in traditional cultural forms (reading, watching films, gaming). However, culture also takes place in daily practices, such as contemporary intangible heritage and the use of local knowledge, which, for example, was central during the celebration organized by the Intangible Heritage Knowledge Center and the Dutch UNESCO Commission (November 14, 2022). But also think of the city, neighborhoods and community centers. Munganyende Hélène Christelle describes in the context of the Prize for young art criticism in De Groene Amsterdammer how programs and activities of independent artists often 'do not take place in a classic gallery space, but for example in a living room or kiosk'. These forms are not yet self-evident for the cultural system world, but demonstrate a development outside the traditional framework. This also applies to those who do not identify themselves as artists, but do produce culture and thus contribute to a broader understanding of culture. Space for polyphony and non-dominant forms of knowledge entails an expression and appreciation of art and cultural forms that do not easily translate into figures.

As mentioned, stories and practices like these are often not visible in data collections. And where data is not collected, there is no basis that can be translated into policy in the longer term, which is largely based on the idea of ​​'measuring is knowing'. This limited view and attitude means, among other things, that (cultural) policy is not in line with the pluralism of art and culture in society. Clinging too much to the perspective that objectifies quantification hinders policy and related research from keeping up with the pace, breadth and depth of developments in this art and culture.  

The gap between research and practice

Eleonora Belfiore emphasized during her lecture at the conference 'The value of culture after corona' (June 30, 2022) that researchers have a responsibility to act as agents of change. The message she proclaims is that cultural (policy) researchers should think more about the impact of their work, the partners with whom they collaborate and what they consider to be cultural disciplines. Seeking a connection with society and cultural practice is a responsibility that more researchers within cultural policy must take, according to Belfiore. The gap between cultural policy and research versus cultural practice is largely due to the limited knowledge from researchers about how different creative practices, in their broadest sense, move. Seeing art, culture and knowledge as cross-pollination of disciplines starting from different 'spaces' (the city, the community platforms, science, the square, the living room) with its own languages, working methods and conditions has been going on within cultural practice for some time, which lags behind in policy and research. This gap is also characterized by the pace of developments: how practice develops day by day, in research and policy we often talk about months, if not years.

In these continuously changing and shifting forms, art and culture, in addition to an artistic component, increasingly also have a social purpose, such as awareness and behavioral change. Consider, for example, climate-conscious living, shaping the public domain or shifts within education. This is a development that has been going on for some time, as also described in Culture in 2021: five trends of the Boekman Foundation, and is in line with the increasing need to measure impact.

This social focus can be seen, for example, in the design research of Concrete Blossom, a design studio that focuses, among other things, on the search for working methods and instruments that fall between established institutions and grassroots initiatives. An example of this is the concept of an 'in-between space' that they developed. Here the cultural practice meets the cultural system world to work together in new forms and a new language. Launches in February 2023 Concrete Blossom one accessible online mixtape in which findings from the design research into this form of collaboration are brought together. Part of this is the symposium jointly produced with the Boekman Foundation Parallel Worlds and Interspaces (October 25, 2022), which made visible both the tensions and possibilities between the different worlds of system and practice. During this afternoon, social designer Shay Raviv (co-founder De Voorkamer) talked about the use of design and theater to connect people with diverse backgrounds and create understanding for each other's realities. Developments like these demonstrate the urgency to embrace interdisciplinarity in the multifunctional role that the cultural and creative sector fulfills.

Context and lived experiences provide a fuller picture of the daily reality that cultural practice embodies. These are the driving forces that ensured that work was done, for example, to stimulate diversity, equality and inclusion in the sector and a healthier cultural professional practice. That there is still much to be gained in this regard is evident from the many reports unacceptable behavior en abuse of power that emerge from different corners of the sector. Such insights make it clear that tracking data alone is not enough to capture the key features and developments of the world behind it. This mainly concerns the knowledge questions that serve as a basis for gathering insights, approaching them with the entire arsenal of methods and options to collect and further develop this knowledge.  

The aforementioned examples from cultural practice provide a possible answer to how the available knowledge base can be enriched with knowledge that has not yet found a place within the system world. These participatory initiatives not only show a shift in art and culture forms, but also (and precisely!) a shift in knowledge. This shift in knowledge requires different ways of working, starting from a specific context and creating different conditions.

What now?

In the coming years, the Boekman Foundation will focus on developing a broadly supported Knowledge Agenda for the cultural and creative sector. In interaction with, among other things, the Boekman Foundation's Culture Monitor, this Knowledge Agenda provides direction for the design, execution and implementation of research and knowledge sharing around policy, governance and debate within the sector (Goedhart et al. 2022). This is of great importance for more coordination on the data collection side and for a joint willingness of the parties involved to better connect quantitative and qualitative knowledge, as well as to approach the two from a more complete context.

But enriching the current knowledge base also translates into the programming of the Boekman Foundation. Here we enter into collaborations, based on other forms of knowledge and experiences and where participation, interdisciplinary collaboration and connection are central. In this way, programming is actively positioned as a supplement to the research that is already taking place and also as a methodology. For example, we use the podcast Agenda Point (2023) as an instrument to retrieve stories from cultural and creative practice. The knowledge gained through this is an integral part of the Boekman Foundation's knowledge cycle. In this way we deepen and broaden the knowledge base that is already present in the Culture Monitor and we continue to develop it in order to be prepared for future knowledge needs.


Goedhart, M and C. Rasterhoff (2022) Cultural and creative sector knowledge agenda 2023-2026. Amsterdam: Boekman Foundation.

Accountability image

A still from campaign images for Parallel Worlds and Interspaces captured by Grown George.