High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

And the Winners of the Flemish Culture Awards are…

And the Winners of the Flemish Culture Awards are…

Thirteen Flemish artists and organisations across cultural disciplines take home an Ultima. These Flemish Culture Prizes, run annually by the Flemish Government, recognise an outstanding contribution to arts and culture.

For the first time, there was a separate award for digital art, a renewed focus on circus, but no longer separate awards for emerging talent and cultural entrepreneurship. These are this year's laureates per category.

General Cultural Merit: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

This year’s Ultima for lifetime services to culture goes to Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (b. 1976). The Belgian-Moroccan Cherkaoui is recognised worldwide as one of the leading, versatile and original choreographers of his generation.

After training in classical and modern dance, Cherkaoui studied in Brussels at P.A.R.T.S., the renowned dance school of choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

Cherkaoui was the artistic director of the ballet company of Opera Ballet Vlaanderen. Since 2022, he has led the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève in Switzerland. In addition, he is still the artistic director of his own company Eastman.

Cherkaoui has already created more than fifty choreographies. In his work, he connects different styles, while dealing with themes such as collectivity, otherness, the search for identity, faith, spirituality and desire.

Cherkaoui succeeds in reaching a wide audience with idiosyncratic contemporary dance, including collaborations with artists from other disciplines, such as performance artist Marina Abramovic, fashion designer Tim Van Steenbergen and pop stars Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.

He also recently choreographed Rebel, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah's film about Syria fighters.

Cherkaoui has already won numerous awards for his work, including the Prix Benois de la Danse, two Olivier Awards and three titles of "Choreographer of the Year" by Tanz magazine. Since 2014, he has been a Commander in the Order of the Crown, a major Belgian award.


What the jury says:

'His work is poetic, broad, innovative and manages to convey contemporary dance to a wide audience. Exchanges and cross-pollinations enrich his oeuvre. They make dance a living language, an encounter between cultures, styles, and histories. The jury wishes to honour him for his groundbreaking oeuvre, open vision, multi-voiced approach, and unique connecting language.'

Read our profile on Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.

website Eastman / Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Amateur Arts: Brass Band Willebroek

Brass Band Willebroek is an academic orchestra of professional and amateur musicians and conservatory students. Founded in 1979, the brass band grew into one of the most important ambassadors of wind music in Belgium with a solid international reputation. Brass Band Willebroek won no less than 22 times the Belgian National Brass Band Championships, has also been European champion three times, and world champion twice. Their latest record, 2007's Elgar Variations, was voted Brass Band Album of the Year by BBC Radio 2.

Brass Band Willebroek pays a lot of attention to budding musical talent. During the annual Willebroek Solo Contest, professional musicians coach young musicians. With Young Brass Band Willebroek, the band also has an intensive youth programme to guarantee the influx of talented young people. Every summer there is the Brassband Willebroek Academy. In this way, Brassband Willebroek contributes to anchoring orchestral culture in Flanders.


What the jury says:

'Brassband Willebroek is a fixture at the highest international level that orchestra with amateur musicians can achieve. The jury agrees that their projects make a valuable contribution to the cultural sector and in their selflessness are an example for other initiatives.'

website Brass Band Willebroek

Architecture and Applied Arts: Marie-José Van Hee

Marie-José Van Hee (b. 1950) is considered the grande dame of architecture in Belgium. She belongs to the so-called Generation of 1974, architects who trained in a modernist language of form, showing respect for tradition and history.

Vanhee represented Belgium twice at the Venice Architecture Biennale. She received several prestigious awards, including the British International Fellowship from the Royal Institute of British Architects.

During her long career, Van Hee worked on more than 400 projects. Her oeuvre is very diverse and includes houses, public buildings, bridges, squares and, since a few years, furniture. Yet she is best known for her designs for houses and renovations in and around Ghent.

Van Hee's architecture is described as sensory. Her works are known for their pared-down handling of light, material, colour, dimension and detail. Soundness, light and security are paramount in her designs.


What the jury says:

'For almost half a century, Marie-José Van Hee has been building an oeuvre of residential, public space and cultural buildings in the most consistent manner. She became a role model for many young designers, not only because of the timeless qualities of her work, but equally because she shows that she experiences pleasure and joy in finding the right light, the perfect colour combination or the appropriate type of wood.'

Read our profile on Marie-José Van Hee

website Marie-José Van Hee

Visual Arts: Ann Veronica Janssens

Belgian-British artist Ann Veronica Janssens (b. 1956) enjoys international acclaim for work at the crossroads between experimentation, light sculpture, and immersive art.

Janssens' work rejects the definition of a work of art as merely an object. For her, light, colours, liquids, sounds and mist take the place of raw building materials. Janssens deploys ephemeral means, such as light and mist, to develop new forms of experience. The essence of her artworks is the sensory, immaterial experience of the audience; the installation itself is secondary to this.


What the jury says:

'Ann Veronica Janssens' oeuvre is as impressive as it is subtle. She gives us images we have never seen before and provokes experiences we have not yet lived.'

Website Ann Veronica Janssens

Circus: ADM-VZW

Circus acrobat and cystic fibrosis patient Jesse Huygh (b. 1991) founded the circus organisation ADM-VZW to realise socially relevant projects that instil empathy in diverse audiences.

Despite his incurable illness, he built an international career. After studying at the circus college in Brussels, he toured the world with major circuses such as Canada's Cirque Eloize and Australia's Casus. Huygh gave master classes in France, trained circus artists in Africa, and became a teacher for several circus disciplines.

Samen met zes andere Chinese-mastacrobaten richtte hij in 2016 een eigen gezelschap op: Collectif Sous le Manteau. Als eerste mucopatiënt in België kreeg hij COVID-19. Het inspireerde hem voor de voorstelling À 2 Mètres. Verbonden aan een zuurstoftank en geholpen door acrobate Rocio Garrote, verkent hij zijn grenzen en zijn hoop. Jesse laat zien dat dromen sterker zijn dan angst.

Together with six other Chinese mast acrobats, he founded his own company in 2016: Collectif Sous le Manteau. He was the first cystic fibrosis patient in Belgium to have Covid infection. It inspired him for the performance À 2 Mètres. Attached to an oxygen tank and helped by acrobat Rocio Garrote, he explores his limits and his hopes. Jesse shows that dreams are stronger than fear.

To spread his message, Jesse not only performs his show at festivals or in theatres, but also developed a version with which he tours hospitals, sanatoria and residential care centres.


What the jury says:

'Jesse Huygh is a true master of circus technique Chinese mast. He is also an example for anyone struggling with anything. He resists gravity and that as a metaphor for fighting a disease or any condition that complicates your life.'

website ADM-VZW

Digital Art: Alex Verhaest

The work of filmmaker and multimedia artist Alex Verhaest (b. 1985) is on the dividing line between painting, computer games and cinema. Each new project is an experiment with unorthodox contemporary technology.

Verhaest dissects the meaning of film in a multi-screen society and searches for interactivity within cinematography. Her videos, installations and sculptures tell of alienation, miscommunication, family traumas and utopias.

Verhaest is often selected for various art festivals and competitions. In 2014, she won the New Face Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival and in 2015 she received the Golden Nica at the Prix Ars Electronica in Lintz.

Since 2018, Alex Verhaest has also been realising short films.


What the jury says:

'Alex Verhaest creates innovative forms of storytelling within the digital medium, employing an entirely unique visual aesthetic. Characteristically, she leans heavily on pictorial and allegorical references embedded in our classical visual culture, transforming them in fascinating ways into a contemporary perception of themes such as trauma, family, or the feeling of belonging'.

website Alex Verhaest

Film & Visual Media: Angelo Tijssens

Angelo Tijssens (b. 1986) earned his stripes as a theatre maker, scriptwriter, actor and author, but is best known as the co-screenwriter of Girl and Close, the internationally awarded films by Lukas Dhont.

Besides his theatre work with the Ghent company Ontroerend Goed, Angelo has acted in several films and TV series.

Since 2009, Tijssens has had a connection with the Cannes Film Festival. In 2009, he co-wrote the short film IJsland, which was selected for the Cannes student competition. In 2013, Mont Blanc was selected for the official competition there.

In 2018, Girl premiered at the film festival. The film by Lukas Dhont, who co-wrote the screenplay with Tijssens, won the Camera d'Or, the award for best debut film, among others. Girl was also nominated for a Golden Globe and several European Film Awards.

With Close, Lukas Dhont and Angelo Tijssens scored again. The film won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. A victory tour of international film festivals followed, culminating in a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.

Angelo Tijssens' first novel, De Randen (The Edges), was published in 2022.


What the jury says:

'Angelo Tijssens is an inspired storyteller, who knows how to make the intimate universal and the "other" recognisable. In his work and in the social debate, Tijssens is at once an ambassador of vulnerability and a very articulate defender of equality, diversity and culture.’

Read our review of Angelo Tijssens’ debut novel De Randen.

Literature: Joke van Leeuwen

Joke van Leeuwen (b. 1952) is a writer, poet, illustrator, and performer. Both in Flanders and the Netherlands, she is appreciated for her versatile literary and artistic talent.

Since 1978, Van Leeuwen has written and illustrated more than 30 children's books. But she also writes for adults, both prose and poetry. From 2008 to 2010, she was Antwerp's City Poet.

Her work has been widely translated and awarded. As a writer and illustrator of children's books, Van Leeuwen won almost all major awards in Belgium and the Netherlands. In 2013, she was awarded the James Krüssprijs for international children's and youth literature in Germany. She has also been nominated several times for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

A new novel by Joke van Leeuwen will be released soon.


What the jury says:

'Joke Van Leeuwen challenges readers like no other to look at reality differently. And she does so in a funny, moving, and critical way, finding different ways to renew herself in words and images each time.’

Read our profile on Joke van Leeuwen.

website Joke van Leeuwen

Music: Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul

Charlotte Adigéry (b. 1990) and Bolis Pupul (b. 1985) have only recently started making electropop together.

Pupul previously released two records with the synth-electronic band Hong Kong Dong. In 2014, Adigéry debuted as a backing vocalist with Arsenal and Baloji. In 2017, she released her first two EPs. One under her own name and one with her electronic project WWWater, which also includes Bolis Pupul. WWWater was allowed to perform as the opening act for Neneh Cherry in Australia in 2019.

In 2022, Adigéry and Pupul launched their first record as an electropop duo: Topical Dancer. They played to sold-out venues in Europe and America with it. The duo performed on the prestigious British TV show Later with Jools Holland as well as on KEXP, the best-known independent radio station in the US.


What the jury says:

'The debut album Topical Dancer is super danceable and socially critical. It is stylish electropop full of absurdism, fun and references to pop culture. At the same time, lyrics address topical themes such as racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and the role of social media. This album is particularly layered and made for an artistically high-profile international success story.'

Read our profile on Charlotte Adigéry.

website Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul

Performing Arts: Studio Orka

Studio ORKA was a Flemish theatre company that called it quits in 2022. The collective of designers and actors created youth performances that also appealed to adults. The company never performed in theatres, but always in special locations such as parks, gardens, or department store car parks. These original locations influenced the stories and sets. The inspiring locations, layered stories, humorous approach to difficult themes and magical sets formed ORKA's unique DNA.

In two decades, Studio ORKA grew into one of the most highly regarded theatre companies in Belgium. Their plays were hugely popular at home and abroad. Studio ORKA regularly won awards. In 2009, for instance, the company won the Flemish Culture Prize for Theatre.

At the height of their fame, the company called it quits. Studio ORKA, however, left a lasting impression. Their impact on Flemish youth theatre cannot be underestimated.


What the jury says:

‘Studio ORKA is more than the sum of two designers and a group of players. It is a bath of warmth in difficult times, a necessary connection between people of different social classes. Studio ORKA has coloured Flemish theatre memory like no other and provided it with unforgettable moments.’

Read our series about exciting theatre from Flanders and the Netherlands.

website Studio ORKA

Intangible Heritage: The Buglers of The Last Post

Every evening at 8 o’clock, buglers of the Last Post Association, all members of the Ypres Fire Brigade, play the Last Post at the Menin Gate war memorial.

The Last Post was originally a trumpet signal that announced the end of the day in various armies. Over time, the Last Post became a salute to the fallen soldiers of the former British Empire and its allies, who died in the Ypres Salient during the First World War.

The Last Post ceremony has been performed continuously since 2 July 1928, except during World War II. This daily tribute has become one of the most famous examples of the culture of remembrance. It attracts many spectators every day.

What the jury says:

‘Every day, the buglers selflessly dedicate themselves to sustaining the Last Post, a very meaningful ritual, with a universal message of peace. It is heritage set in a monument to the dead, but passed on and supported by a broad heritage community and carried on in practice by generations of living people, every day. Their commitment, for nearly a hundred years, therefore, deserves full credit.'

Read our article on the Last Post ceremony.

website Last Post Association


Socio-cultural work for adults: Sankaa vzw

Sankaa coordinates more than eighty socio-cultural associations from Flanders and Brussels linked to African communities in Belgium. All these associations work on strengthening disadvantaged groups, living together in diversity, world citizenship and solidarity.

Sankaa builds bridges between different communities and stimulates the participation of Africans in Belgian society. To succeed in its mission, the association creates an inspiring learning environment. Strengthening skills and competencies and stimulating critical reflection should lead to emancipation, full participation and equal citizenship.

In 2022, Sankaa presented the research report Racism Unravelled. The organisation conducted a large-scale study to better understand the perception of racism among people with African roots in Belgium. The research shows that victims of racism mainly rely on minority associations to tackle racism. That conclusion shows how important organisations like Sankaa are.

What the jury says:

'With the report Racism Unravelled, Sankaa made the experience of people from the African diaspora in Belgium with racism tangible in a way that numbers and data cannot.'

website Sankaa

Audience Award: Musical 'Vergeet Barbara'

This year, for the second time, there was an audience award, for artists or organisations that contributed to the broadening of culture in the past year but did not immediately fit into the existing Ultimas categories.

The winner is Studio 100's feel-good musical 'Vergeet Barbara', featuring songs from singer Will Tura's extensive oeuvre.

Studio 100 produces television programmes, music, films, comics and merchandise specialised for children and it has a number of theme parks both in Belgium and abroad.


About the Ultimas

The tradition of awarding the Flemish culture prizes was established in 2003. Since then, the Flemish government has awarded 13 prizes every year, in as many categories, to leading artists, organisations or companies. The laureates are chosen by a jury of experts.

In addition to a physical award, each laureate receives a cash prize of 10,000 euros. An exception is the winner of the Ultima for General Cultural Merit, who receives a sum of 20,000 euros.


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