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Antwerp Wants Ongoing VRT Collaboration

With budget cuts looming and sponsorship deals slated to expire soon, VRT may face programming choices

Bertrand Flamang, left, and Philip Heylen advocate future VRT media support for Jazz Middelheim. Photo courtesy of MMaes At a press conference about the 34th edition of the Jazz Middelheim festival, Philip Heylen, the Antwerp culture alderman asked Dutch-language public broadcaster VRT, the co-organizer and prime festival media partner, to consider renewing its media agreement for coverage of this event, as well as others that take place in the city.

In 2016, many of VRT’s sponsorship deals, including its media agreement with Jazz Middelheim — through VRT’s KlaRa radio — will expire.

“The City of Antwerp will guarantee an annual donation of €75,000 (about US$84,000) for the organization of the festival until 2018,” said Heylen. “And there will be a Jazz Middelheim 35th edition next year. But with the public broadcaster facing substantial budget cuts, I see dark clouds coming.”

Heylen wants to negotiate continued collaboration between the city of Antwerp and VRT so that events in the city (Jazz Middelheim, the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition) and concerts in venues such as AMUZ and deSingel, continue to take place and for the broadcaster to provide coverage of them.

Hans Van Goethem, VRT spokesman, said “The VRT is willing to lend an ear to the suggestion. KlaRa’s commitment to jazz continues to stand and the VRT will certainly participate in the 35th Jazz Middelheim festival edition next year. The future remains open.”

The VRT organized the annual festival for the first time in 1969 and in 1983 the event became biannual. In 2008, VRT teamed up with “Jazz & Muziek,” a nonprofit organization and Jazz Middelheim became once again an annual gathering. The city of Antwerp financially supports the festival with an annual donation going to the organizers, Jazz en Muziek and VRT.

The Jazz Middelheim festival will take place this year at the Antwerp Middelheim park August 13–16. Last year’s edition attracted some 19,000 attendees and was broadcast live by VRT’s Radio KlaRa.

“This year’s edition goes back to the roots of jazz, with Joe Lovano celebrating 50 years of ‘A Love Supreme,’ a tribute to Louis Armstrong by Dr. John and will feature on the opening night Tom Barman (from the former Belgian band dEUS) and the TaxiWars,” said Bertrand Flamang of Jazz & Muziek.

— Marc Maes