Publication report on The Cultural and Creative Economy of Brussels

As part of a research project commissioned by the Brussels-Capital region, the research unit Data and Policy recently has now completed a report on the Cultural and Creative (CC) Economy of Brussels.

The economic value of the CC economy in Brussels has remained largely unexplored until now. Previous studies of the creative economies of Flanders and Wallonia have included Brussels to different extents, but did not aim to specifically describe the situation in our capital. This new VUB study describes the CC economy in the BCR using macro-economic indicators, and compares Brussels to the other regions in Belgium using these indicators.

We focus on the number of companies, turnover, value added and employment. Furthermore, we explore the development of these indicators over time, the CC economy’s decomposition into sectors, as well as its geographical distribution. The study contributes to the understanding of the regional Cultural and Creative economy. It is meant to become a strategic tool for local and regional authorities and a benchmark for Brussels’s Cultural and Creative community.

We hope that some of the results might be interesting for you as a researcher, or as a person professionally involved in the CCIs of Brussels.

For more information, suggestions, or if you’d like a printed version of the report don’t hesitate to contact us!


Brief history of our activities & future agenda

Our project on the cultural and creative sector of Brussels is still running according to plan! We have started two and a half years ago and are getting a better understanding of this rich and diverse universe of cultural work on an everyday base. Here is a brief overview of our activities of last year and some information about our next steps.

Brussels map designed by Jazzberry Blue.png
Brussels map designed by Jazzberry Blue – http://www.jazzberryblue.com

Between our stimulating team meetings and the collective activities we organized – like our participation in the Anticipate Symposium organized by Innoviris (you can see our posters here), or the workshop we organized last December) – each of the researcher have been involved in related activities as well:

Eva Swyngedouw pursues her qualitative study of the working conditions and careers of the cultural and creative workers within the performance arts sector and the sector of architecture.
She is currently organizing a panel on “creative cities and inequality” (with Kobe De Keere (University of Amsterdam)) at “de dag van de sociologie” on the 8th of June 2017 at the VUB. Connected to this event, she is also co-editing a special issue of sociologies with Kobe De Keere entitled “Creatieve steden en ongelijkheid. Het gebruik van cultuur in de stedelijke ontwikkeling van Brussel en Amsterdam.”
In August, Eva will present her paper “researching the ‘backstage’ of the creative industries. The socio-economic polarization within the performance arts of Brussels” at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Montreal.

Jef Vlegels, continues to work on his quantitative analysis, mapping the diversity of work in the cultural and creative industries. In the first phase of the project, he has been collecting data from secondary official datasets, as well as conducting our own quantitative survey in three subsectors of the CCS in Brussels. At the moment, Jef finished, together with his colleague Caterina Mauri, a first report on these secondary datasets focusing on the economic impact of the sector in Brussels (more on this in the next update on our website). Furthermore, he’s been working on a book chapter on describing the cultural and creative workforce of Brussels, an article on the creative trident and an article on the cultural and creative policy of Brussels. He has presented his work recently at the Dag van de Sociologie 2017, and has disseminated our results and conclusions so far at several occasions, i.e. during his activities as a founding member of the Creative and Cultural Think Tank.

François Rinschbergh follows up on his qualitative study of the emerging and informal cultural and creative activities focused on the historically working class and immigrant districts of Brussels and he made different presentations of his research at the University Saint-Louis-Brussels and ULB :
A year ago, he talked about the beginning of his field research and had stimulating discussions at the seminar of the Centre d’Etudes Sociologiques (CES).
As part of the study days organized by IRIB (Institut de Recherches Interdisciplinaires sur Bruxelles) in may 2016, he organized a field visit in Molenbeek to meet an original cultural project run by a company of young theatre comedians. Recently (in may 2017), he presented and discussed his fieldwork with J. Mazzocchetti, an anthropologist from the UCL, at the Midi de l’lRIB organized at the University Saint-Louis.
At ULB, he presented his work to the seminar of his other research centre sASHa. He also has been involved in a project organized in collaboration between ULB and the newspaper “Le Soir” and titled “Carnets d’identités”. You can read online the result of his interview : “Entre-soi: la réponse du secteur culturel”. A few weeks ago, François participated to the study days “Bruxelles en recherches” organized by the LIEU (Laboratoire de Recherche interdisciplinaire en Etudes urbaines), the MSH (Maison des Sciences humaines) and the BSI (Brussels Studies Institute) at the ULB faculty of Architecture La Cambre Horta.

Future plans: Our book on the Creative and Cultural sector in Brussels

After the workshop we organized in December 2016, we plan to publish a book (Urban Notebooks, VUB Press). Our ambition is to bring together the results of different ongoing and finished research projects on the Brussels cultural and creative world. Contributions will tackle different issues like the precarious working conditions in the creative industry, the cultural diversity of Brussels, the contemporary art scene in Brussels, the circulation of the idea of “creativity” in town planning, and the link between culture, social cohesion and urban development. The book publication is planned for the end of 2017/early 2018.

Workshop: Understanding Culture and Creativity in Brussels: Is Brussels the New Berlin?

PROGRAM: Thursday December 8th, 2016

9:00–9:30 Research Day welcome coffee
9:30–9:40 Introduction





The Diversity of Work in the Creative and Cultural Industries: Making it Work for Brussels.”

François Rinschbergh, CES, USL-B; CLARA, ULB; Eva Swyngedouw, Cosmopolis, VUB; ULB; Jef Vlegels, Research Unit Data and Policy, VUB

“The media industry and its regional dynamics in the Brussels Region.”

Marlen Komorowski, Iminds-SMIT, VUB; Victor Wiard, ReSic, ULB; Sylvain Plazy, PReCoM, USL-B

11:10-11:30 Coffee Break
11:30-12:30 “L’urbanisme ludique: susciter la créativité par le jeu.”

Sophie Hubaut, CLARA, ULB.

“Ressorts institutionnels du milieu artistique subsaharien à Bruxelles.”

Véronique Clette-Gakuba, METICES, ULB.

12:30-13:15 Lunch
13:15-14:45 Artistic Labor and Precarity: Lessons from the Brussels Contemporary Dance Scene.

Annelies Van Assche; S:PAM, Ghent University; CeSo, KULeuven

“Bruxelles «à la mode», Bruxelles et la mode: Capital symbolique surexposé, travail précaire invisibilisé.”

Giulia Mensitieri, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

“Du méli-mélo à la créativité : Comment, dans la pratique, les opérateurs culturels bruxellois intègrent-ils la complexité institutionelle et la diversité de la societé?”

Sophie Alexandre RAB/BKO; Leen De Spiegelaere, RAB/BKO

14:45-15:10 Coffee Break
15:10-16:40 “Evolution de la relation entre un équipement culturel et son territoire. Le cas du Centre d’art contemporain WIELS, à Forest (Bruxelles).”

Simon Debersaques, IGEAT, Metrolab, ULB.

“Bruxelles, le nouveau Berlin ? Confrontation de la métropole culturelle bruxelloise au « modèle berlinois »”

Tatiana Debroux, IGEAT, ULB & ENS Paris; Boris Grésillon, Centre Marc Bloch; Humboldt Univ. Berlin

“Le dialogue entre les opérateurs de l’art contemporain à Bruxelles: perceptions et perspectives.”

Emilie Garcia Guillen, Gestion Culturelle, ULB; Anne-Sophie Radermecker, Gestion Culturelle, ULB

16:40-17:30 Reception


Royal Sky Room 1, Royal library of Belgium, Mont des Arts, 1000 Brussels


Register before December 1st 2016 by filling out this form:




Prof. Jean-Louis Genard, ULB; Prof. Judith le Maire, ULB; François Rinschbergh, USL-B & ULB; Prof. Christine Schaut, USL-B; Dr. Eva Swyngedouw, VUB & ULB; Prof. Karel Vanhaesebrouck, ULB; Prof. Bas Van Heur, VUB; Dr. Jef Vlegels, VUB; Prof. Walter Ysebaert, VUB


1.     Call

In the last decade, the cultural and creative sector[1] has been a central topic on the agenda of researchers and policy makers alike. Undoubtedly, this sector has undergone significant changes under the influence of new economic realities, globalization and technological (r)evolutions. The creative workforce has changed with it and has arguably become more hybrid, flexible and easily adaptable to the current economic conditions. The evaluation of the outcomes of these changes, however, are much more debated. Some argue that the sector has responded exceptionally well to the opportunities and challenges of recent changes in our society, resulting in a growing creative workforce, in the development of innovative start-ups and in the creation of cultural and artistic infrastructures that facilitate urban regeneration, increase the attractiveness of cities and improves the social mobility of its residents. Others take a more critical position and point to the precarious working conditions, to the growing inequalities in terms of ethnicity, gender and class, to gentrification issues that such a development model might generate and to other potential harmful social, economic and political consequences of the ongoing process of neoliberalization.

Brussels is a particularly interesting case study in this regard because the city seems to have become an attraction pole for international artists and ‘creative’ people. The New York Times recently stated that “there’s a huge drive to make Brussels the new Berlin” and numerous cultural and creative projects emerge on a daily basis in different neighborhoods around the city. Also, the divided institutional structure of the Brussels-Capital Region makes that municipalities, communities, regions and the federal government all have some sort of competence relevant for the cultural and creative sector. This creates a complex landscape of cultural policy actors that is almost impossible to navigate. Nevertheless, local policy makers do not hesitate to announce publicly the importance of a blooming cultural and creative sector for Brussels.

In this workshop, we want to bring together academics and other professionals that do research on the cultural and/or creative sector of Brussels and who use a variety of quantitative (survey, secondary data analysis, network analysis, …) and qualitative (ethnography, archival research, (biographical) interviewing, …) methods. Broadly speaking, we are interested in state of the art research that covers culture and/or creativity. The empirical data should at least partly deal with Brussels.  The main goal of this workshop is to give the opportunity to researchers in a wide range of scientific disciplines to present their research on the cultural and creative sector of the Brussels-Capital Region and to give them the opportunity to interact with colleagues involved in similar research projects in Brussels.

We are particularly interested in research that focuses on:

  • The economic and/or social impact of the cultural and creative sector
  • Creative careers, work conditions and artistic work practices
  • Diversity – in terms of ethnicity, gender, class – within the creative sector
  • Multilevel governance and cultural policy
  • The role of the cultural and creative sector in urban development
  • The territorial and infrastructural dimensions of the creative sector in Brussels

But other topics can be addressed as well.

2.     submission guidelines

Abstract (500 words)

Interested researchers are invited to submit an abstract before the 7th of October, 20:00h to jef.vlegels@vub.ac.be and eva.swyngedouw@vub.ac.be. When submitting your abstract, please limit yourself to 500 words. Abstracts should preferably contain an introduction, a research question, and a methods and results section. It can be submitted in French, Dutch or English. We will invite speakers to give a 20-minute presentation. The invitations will be based on an evaluation of their abstract and will be send by the 20th of October.

Short paper (3000 words)

In addition to this short abstract, researchers who are invited to attend the workshop are expected to hand in a short paper limited to 3000 words by the 18th of November. This text will complement their presentation and will be used to select chapters for the edited volume.

Edited volume

We will invite a selection of researchers to contribute a chapter to a volume we are co-editing and which we are planning to publish as a peer-reviewed book. Authors to be invited for publication will be chosen based on a review of their extended abstract and their workshop presentation.
The edited volume is intended to act as a compendium of state of the art research on the cultural and/or creative sector within the Brussels-Capital Region. We want to bring together contributions from an interdisciplinary team of researchers to gain a better understanding of the cultural and creative sector in Brussels.

3.     Important dates


  • Seminar: 8 December 2016
  • Deadline abstract submission: 7/10/2016
  • Decision on abstract submission: 20/10/2016
  • Deadline short paper: 18/11/2016

4.     Scientific committee and organizers

This workshop is organized by the research team of an Innoviris Anticipate research project entitled ‘The diversity of work in the cultural and creative industries: making it work for Brussels’. For more information on the project, please visit https://workccsbrussel.wordpress.com and subscribe to the newsletter to stay informed.

The research team involves researchers from the three different universities in Brussels (ULB, USL-B and VUB):

Prof. Jean-Louis Genard, jgenard@ulb.ac.be, ULB
Prof. Judith le Maire, judith.le.maire@ulb.ac.be, ULB
François Rinschbergh, francois.rinschbergh@usaintlouis.be, USL-B & ULB
Prof. Christine Schaut, christine.schaut@usaintlouis.be, USL-B
Dr. Eva Swyngedouw, eva.swyngedouw@vub.ac.be, VUB & ULB
Prof. Karel Vanhaesebrouck, kavhaese@ulb.ac.be, ULB
Prof. Bas Van Heur, bvheur@vub.ac.be, VUB
Dr. Jef Vlegels, jef.vlegels@vub.ac.be, VUB
Prof. Walter Ysebaert, walter.ysebaert@vub.ac.be, VUB

[1] This sector mainly covers the activities of the cultural sector (visual arts, performing arts and heritage), cultural industries (media, audiovisual, video games, music, publishing), creative industries and activities (design, architecture and advertising).

Ethnographic field note. Attending the research day ‘Mind the Gap’ on Diversity and Education.

On a Friday in May, I attended the Mind the gap research day on diversity and education at a Dutch-speaking Brussels school of art. The day started with a performance of Ben Benaouisse, a performance artist. The end of his performance drew my attention the most: When Ben started to read his curriculum vitae to the audience of mainly white women, some white men, a couple of Moroccan-Belgian men and a handful of mixed-race alumni of the school. He summed up his many accomplishments during his life, but he ended with “I am not a stranger, but a stranger-in-the-making. I hope to once become a stranger.”

With his performance the artist demonstrates to the audience that he is so much more than the unidimensional ethnic label the audience often places on him. By naming his accomplishments as an artist, he shows that he is an artist first and foremost and that his career is what he wants to be accounted for in the first place. He does not feel like a stranger himself; other people are the ones who make him aware of his otherness.

Next, the director of Moussem, Mohammed Ikoubaan, takes the parole. He starts with joking that he and Ben Benaouisse have something in common: “we both learned Dutch in Ghent.” Again, Mohammed who is born in Morocco does not mention their shared Moroccan heritage, but instead he alludes to the languages they have in common. The main thing I took away from Mohammed’s talk is that he thinks that the reason that migrants do not end up in art schools is mainly a result of the social class in which they grow up. Many migrants come from a working-class background and are predominantly encouraged to become lawyer or engineer instead of an artist. As long as the social conditions do not change, nothing will change he seems to suggest.

Furthermore, he is not a proponent of integrating urban arts into the official arts circuit because the urban artists would lose all credibility with their audience. “The public then becomes white and middle class. This is not the way to go forward”, he argues, “there are other ways.” One of the solutions he believes in is to inject ‘other’ stories with different contents (other canons) in the art world and to broaden the communal arts patrimony. Furthermore, he thinks it is time that “Moroccan artists should be able to play Shakespeare.” He states that today it is still not possible to do that for any Moroccan artist. The plays that Moroccan artists are asked for “always have to deal with Jihad or something like that.”

Finally, a couple of mixed-race alumni are asked to the front of the room to talk about their experiences as a person of color in their school career. In general, none of them have experienced any problems and hindrances regarding their color. Samira goes as far to say that “this is the first time I ever got confronted with my otherness.” Samisha, who recently published a comic book, tells us she thinks that gender issues are far more prominent in the comic book world than issues of ‘diversity’. But she adds that she dislikes it when people label her comic book as exotic. When her comic book got published, she explicitly did not want to partake in the discourse on “it is a book from black people for black people.” So, sometimes the students are confronted with their otherness even though they themselves never think of their otherness. When Veronique, for instance, was told her art work looked very African, she became angry. Although she does not realize it, the venues and events she tells us she got asked to perform could be considered as part of the world music or the development circuit: The Sfinks festival, Couleur café, a campaign for 11.11.11 and ‘Broederlijk Delen’. Whether they want it or not, artists of color often seem to end up in this circuit. Sammy is upset he got asked in the first place to participate in a research day on diversity. Instead of being asked as an artist, he is asked as the guy from a “different ethnic background”. “I find it very sad that I was not asked to talk about my work.” He asks the organizers “what am I doing here? Tell me why I am sitting here? Everybody does have an ethnic background, no?” The organizer, the diversity coordinator, tells him they are interested to hear people from a ‘diverse background.’ “Diversity”, Sammy replies ironic, “My work is diverse: I use diverse media and I have done diverse jobs.”

In general, the alumni agree that they are not the ones that should have been invited. They have never experienced any hindrances in their school careers and thereafter. Veronique thinks of herself as “a bad example” because she has never felt any racial barriers in her career. The people who should have been asked to present at the research day are the people who did not make it to art school in the first place. These are the people that need the researcher’s and the larger society’s attention.

Veronique also points to another interesting insight into artists’ careers. She explains that the people of her cohort who graduated successfully were the ones who were already studying at Luca school of arts in high school where “they learned to push through and learned to handle the freedom of the education”. This demonstrates that it is important for artists to learn the artistic codes and behavioral rules of a cultural institution early on in order to be successful.

Molenbeek and its cultural and creative dynamism – a (small) press review

Photo Thomas Vanden Driessche pour M Le Magazine du Monde, 9 avril 2016
Photo Thomas Vanden Driessche pour M Le Magazine du Monde, 9 avril 2016

Since the attacks in Paris and Brussels, after the “Brussels bashing” and the mediatisation of Molenbeek, national and internantional press published some articles aimed to reveal the “positive side” of this neighborhood. Indeed, for those who didn’t know, there is also people who live, work, create and run cultural projects in Molenbeek !

Several important newspapers and magazines illustrated the “other face” of the neighborhood by describing its alternative art scene, its internationals and “avant-garde” artistic world coming into the neighborhood for the romantic and inspiring atmosphere of this former industrial area, or explaining the attractiveness of the place for “creative workers” (architects, designers, …) because of the available large space, the low price of the real estate and the proximity with the city center.

For our research, these articles are interesting for the informations they provide about what makes the attraction for such a district for those that the theorist Richard Florida calls, controversially, “the creative class” (i.e. artists and bohemians, creative entrepreneurs, intellectuals and professionals active in the cultural sector, …).

However, if that picture of the cultural and creative landscape mainly focused on alternative cultural place, well established artists, professionals of the cultural sector and trendy co-working spaces for creative entrepreneurs coming from elsewhere is definitely part of our research, could we say that it is representative of the cultural and creative diversity of this area of Brussels ? Emerging from the neighborhood, an (other) important associative and artistic dynamism, poorly subsidized by public authorities or few institutionalized, led by a younger part of the population with migration background also exist, live and create in this historically working-class area, and they’re not unsuccessful or marginal, on the contrary! If these people are not (and will never be) assimilated to the trendy “creative class” describes by R. Florida, they might however reflects the existence of a cultural dynamism that challenge the classical representations of this area of Brussels marked by a “globalisation from below” but often characterized, wrongly, by the lack of (all kind of) ressources or the so-called disinterest for culture (except the hip-hop cliché) from those who grew up in this neighborhood.

With our research, we aim to show that something exist beyond the scope of the fuzzy “creative class” and to consider the cultural and creative diversity of Brussels in its richness but also its needs and difficulties.

To be continued…

Press articles mentionned in the text :
F. Gauthier (Le Soir), “Molenbeek montre son autre visage”, 8 février 2016
M. Bertrand (Tram33 (Le Soir)), “Molenbeek: bastion de culture”, 11 mai 2016
R. Azimi (Le Monde), “Molenbeek est (aussi) un repaire d’artistes”, 8 avril 2016
H. Moens (The Word), “Molenbeek, home of the brave, the bold and the beautiful”, 3 mai 2016
J. Ben Yakoub (Rekto Verso n°54),  “Ongezien! Brussels got talent!”, nov.-dec. 2012

Voices of culture report


In February 2016, researcher Jef Vlegels was invited to participate in the ‘Voices of Culture‘ structured dialogue between the European Commission and the Cultural sector on developing the entrepreneurial and innovation potential of the cultural and creative sectors.

This process provides a framework for discussions between EU civil society stakeholders and the European Commission with regard to culture. Its main objective is to provide a channel for the voice of the cultural sector in Europe to be heard by EU policy-makers. In addition, it aims to strengthen the advocacy capacity of the cultural sector in policy debates on culture at a European level, while encouraging it to work in a more collaborative way.

The session on “developing the entrepreneurial and innovation potential of the cultural and creative sectors”, held on 25-26 February 2016 in Berlin, has provided a space for exchange and discussion between around 35 participants representing the cultural sectors from the EU Member States.

This document is a report of the meeting. It is also presented to the European Commission, DG Education and Culture at a Dialogue Meeting on 26 April 2016 in Brussels.



Work package 1 : Analytical framework

« Les “industries culturelles et créatives” : Perspective multi-scalaire et état des lieux à Bruxelles »

Ce texte a été rédigé par David Eubelen (ULB/USL-B) et François Rinschbergh (ULB/USL-B) dans le cadre de la première phase du projet de recherche Innoviris « The diversity of work in the cultural and creative industries » (programme Anticipate 2015-2019). Il a pour vocation de présenter un premier défrichage de la littérature portant sur l’économie créative, ses secteurs, ses travailleurs et ses territoires à Bruxelles. En tant que working paper, ce texte sera amené à être modifié, complété, corrigé au fur et à mesure de l’avancement de notre recherche. Toutes remarques de lecteurs extérieurs sont bien entendu les bienvenues.

Supervisée par une équipe interdisciplinaire de 6 professeurs (Jean-Louis Genard (ULB), Judith Le Maire (ULB), Christine Schaut (USL-B), Karel Vanhaesebrouck (ULB), Bas Van Heur (VUB) et Walter Ysebaert (VUB)), notre recherche est désormais entrée dans sa phase d’enquête et est conduite par 3 chercheurs en sociologie (François Rinschbergh (ULB/USL-B), Eva Swyngedouw (VUB/ULB) et Jef Vlegels (VUB)).