Many UK cultural organisations and practitioners engage in international work, such as sector specific networking, artists residencies, cooperation between major museums or opera houses and their counterparts in other countries, or projects involving small scale theatre or dance companies. It is an integral dimension of the work of many cultural organisations and individuals.
In a survey of 1,000 stakeholders conducted by ICM and SQW for Arts Council Englandin 2017, more than 50% said cultural exchange was very important to their work and two-thirds had undertaken at least one international activity in the previous two years. According to theIncorporated Society of Musicians, 70% of UK-based professional musicians travel overseas to work, while a-n (Artists Newsletter) indicated that 40% of usual artists from the UK travelled regularly to Europe in the 12 months to July 2017. The extent of international engagement was further illustrated in an Arts Council England survey of its National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs), which revealed that almost two-thirds of them had participated in international activities, most often touring, co-production or taking artists overseas. Moreover, on average international activity represented 14% of participating NPO’s income.
The British Council is involved in a number of partnerships, including one with IETM (International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts) and others in a project, Europe Beyond Disability, which seeks to explore and celebrate the innovative artistic practice of artists with disabilities (see also chapter 2.5.6). It also led a project to establish a European Creative Hubs Network in partnership with six creative hubs co-funded by the Creative Europe programme.
England and Wales host a range of well-established international cultural events, as well as many festivals and activities programmed by national and local authorities, organisations and venues, for example the Notting Hill Carnival (Europe’s largest street event) was established in 1964. The Frieze Art Fair has been building a major international reputation among artists, galleries and art dealers and in Wales the Hay Literary Festival and the ARTES MUNDI contemporary art competition are important international events. A UK City of Culture programme has been instituted to take place every four years (see chapter 2.7).
During the past decade there has been greater awareness by the Arts Councils in England and Wales of the relevance of international cultural engagement and the need to encourage this, not least financially. However, finding sufficient resources to undertake the work can still prove challenging.
Moreover, a toughening of regulations concerning the issuing of work visas for visiting nationals from outside the EU/European Economic Area has caused problems for some festivals, galleries and other presenters. Although the government agreed that creative workers coming to the UK for less than three months will not require work visas (though they still require a sponsor), for those seeking a visa to stay longer the requirement for biometric information, including fingerprinting, has meant that the processing in some originating countries takes much longer even if a visa is approved, which has made it almost impossible for presenters to arrange short notice replacements from overseas, e.g. to replace a performer who is taken ill or is indisposed.
Concerns have also been expressed by the arts community about the entry conditions and criteria governing visas for up to 12 months for temporary workers (Tier 5) and visas for longer periods (Tier 2) (see also chapter 2.3). Representations from the National Campaign for the Arts and others in the arts and entertainment sector have resulted in some modifications to the visa process, but concerns remain that the process of inviting overseas artists is time consuming and expensive, as well as inhibiting.
Partly to address the number of occasions when notable creative people have been refused visas, Arts Council England was given the authority, from August 2011, to determine whether an individual qualified for admission to the UK on the basis of whether he/she were internationally recognised as a leader in their field under a new category of “exceptional talent” (Tier 1). Similarly, the Producers Alliance for Cinema & Television was given the role of assessing visa applications from the film, TV, animation, post-production and visual effects sectors. In 2018 the scope of “exceptional talent” visas was extended to include fashion designers and a wider pool of film and TV sector applicants. Moreover, the new Government’s intentions to toughen visa rules in the light of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is also very likely to adversely impact on European mobility and interaction with the UK.