- Since the 17th century the city has been known for its liberal thinking and tolerance
- It encourages its many visitors to explore beyond the city centre by branding and promoting its neighbourhoods
- Increasingly cultural policies and activities in Amsterdam have a broader citywide and regional scope, rather than being concentrated around one area.
City data: Key facts
- Geographical area: 2,580 sq. km
- Total population: 2,503,000
- Percentage of total national population living in the city: 15%
- Education level – percentage with degree level or higher: 42%
- GDP (PPP) million: US$ 170,878
- Percentage creative industries employment: 9%
Amsterdam has been inhabited for a thousand years. Originally a region of low-lying peat bogs, its land was reclaimed 400 years ago through a system of canals, known as The Canal Ring, that has shaped the city to this day and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although Amsterdam is relatively small, it has a long history of trade and innovation. Its reputation as a liberal and tolerant city dates back to the Enlightenment, when it attracted artists such as Rembrandt and humanist thinkers such as Spinoza and Descartes. It continues to be a global centre for trade, finance and ideas. Known for its tolerance of soft drugs and sex work, it has also been at the forefront of discussions around LGBT rights and multiculturalism; the latter an increasingly important topic in a city where more than one third of residents are foreign born.
Over the past 15 years, Amsterdam has invested hugely in cultural infrastructure. More than 25 institutions have been built, rebuilt or refurbished, including the central public library, the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam and the De La Mar theatre. Much of this was financed via public-private partnerships. Management of cultural institutions has also evolved. Amsterdam’s national institutions – such as the Rijksmuseum – were privatised in the 1990s and, though still partly government-funded, are run by private foundations. The city is now placing an increased emphasis on financial sustainability. As part of its Plan for the Arts (2017–2020), funding available for arts and culture has been increased by over 9%, to €90 million per year. In addition, €6 million have been allocated to fund innovation, experimentation and talent development. Meanwhile, a unique policy introduced in 2013 gives schoolchildren in Amsterdam up to three hours of cultural education per week through the curriculum. The newly assembled City Council has proposed to raise the Plan for the Arts budget by €5 million annually from 2021 onwards.
As a small, historic city, Amsterdam is having to balance preserving its heritage, encouraging tourism, and remaining a liveable place for its residents. It has been named the seventh most popular European city for international tourists by Euromonitor and welcomes around 15 million visitors per year. This level of popularity poses challenges for the city. As a result, visitors are now being encouraged to explore beyond the city centre through a programme branding the outer neighbourhoods and highlighting their cultural attractions. The programme aims to widen cultural participation beyond the city, as visitors are invited to visit other places and sites in the greater Amsterdam Area. Despite Amsterdam’s long progressive reputation, the City wants to create an even more inclusive and representative cultural sector, as well as increase cultural participation among young and older people. Efforts are also being made to replace ageing infrastructure, and address the dated use of design and public space in some areas.
Amsterdam has an active informal cultural sector and night time economy. In 2002 the city acquired the world’s first ‘Night Mayor’, who advocates for late-night businesses and serves as a point of liaison with the City – a model which has already been exported to many other world cities. Since 2013 Amsterdam has also experimented with 24 hour opening times for a number of venues, based on the idea that extending hours can help to reduce antisocial behaviour. As well as nightclubs and cafes, this includes some arts and cultural venues, such as gallery and concert spaces. The city is also trying to respond to the challenge of making room for artists within the city by providing more artistic space and more support for art in public spaces.