On the morning of December 13th, 2016, Visiting Arts hosted a discussion to explore the international agenda for culture in the UK post-Brexit in Open Space format at Europe House, the European Parliament Office in the UK. Participants included members of arts organisations based in London, Kent, and Sheffield, representatives of several European embassies and cultural institutes, university lecturers, as well as members of the Creative Industries Federation, British Council and Arts Council England.
The cohort addressed the following central question: What should be the international agenda for culture in the UK post-Brexit? What would that look like in terms of policies, support programmes, reciprocal agreements and networks?
“It’s time to initiate on the ground partnerships and small steps to ensure artistic exchange continues whatever the circumstances.” – Sebastian Merrick, Kazum
Visiting Arts’ position
Visiting Arts is interested in sharing knowledge, expertise, and resources to support international work and artists. As a micro business that collaborates with individuals and other small and micro businesses, we do not feel that change can be brought about by one of us alone. While we do not intend to lead a campaign, we are interested in providing a platform or forum for our network to talk about Brexit. We want to create a space for people to voice their ideas and concerns and work towards a positive outcome for Brexit.
Main issues raised
Many important issues and burning questions were raised on the morning. Focus groups were formed in which participants could unpack certain aspects in detail. The following section will briefly outline the topics of these focus groups and their main outcomes.
1. Uncertainty and bureaucracy
This topic revolved around the general absence of clarity and the administrative complications that Brexit will incur. Concerns were voiced about the inconvenience of having to apply for visas, rising touring costs, paperwork, VAT, and legal issues such as intellectual property rights, among others.
On the topic of visas, the cohort insisted on the importance of designing a system that works for the cultural sector. There is a danger that some categories will not be accounted for in the discussion and that people lose the interest and motivation to come to the UK for exchange and trade. How will this affect the UK’s international cultural hub status?
Today, for instance, many emerging artists and cultural professionals move frequently and easily between countries. They engage in informal movement that has a great effect on their careers. In the future, this possibility may become restricted. Another example is the art market, where professionals come to the UK on temporary missions that cannot necessarily be categorised as work, for which they might have trouble in the future to acquire a visa.
2. International thinking and “Europeanness”
This group mostly consisted of representatives of European cultural institutes and embassies who took an outsider/international view on the topic. They reflected on what the UK might lose in result of Brexit. Firstly, they questioned how hungry the UK really is for international collaboration, as they receive fewer enquiries than imagined and are not always involved in creative projects from the beginning. Instead, they are often solicited at the last minute to pay for an artists’ travel costs. More than just funding train tickets, embassies and cultural institutes expressed a strong desire to build long-term, sustainable, creative partnerships and to be more involved in the production process of creative projects.
“Embassies and cultural institutes aren’t just here to pay for the artist’s train ticket. There’s so much more we could do.” – Marie Proffit, EUNIC London
The group moreover reflected on how they can influence or work with traditional media to circulate positive messages around European arts and culture. They mentioned the necessity of a mutual investment: they must work on how they present themselves, but the British media must be willing to listen too.
The discussion also briefly touched upon the need for embassies and cultural institutes to enlarge both their scope of programming and their geographical reach. In terms of programming, they encourage to surprise the public by going further than traditional cultural diplomacy. An example of this is “The Games Europe Plays”, a recent event dedicated to gaming scene within the UK. In terms of geography, it was deemed crucial to reach audiences beyond London.
3. Concerns about domestic divides and a sense of goodwill
This group reflected on the impact of the Referendum on national cohesion and attitudes, notably the culture of giving and good will. Furthermore, they spoke about the need to reconcile Remain voters with Leave voters and to work towards common solutions. The debate needs to include different points of view, as discussing the matter among people who agree with each other would come to no avail.
Culture was described as a safe space within what has become a divisive and vitriolic debate.
It was said that the fiction of the UK being a self-sufficient entity with a home-grown culture needs to be tackled, as influences from abroad have always reached and shaped the country.
“We must tackle this fiction of the UK being a self-sufficient entity with a home-grown culture.” – Frankie Wing, Jasmin Vardimon Company
4. Vision and future agendas
This fourth group discussed how we can make the case, post-Brexit, for increased investment in internationalising art and culture practice. They spoke of the interplay between hard and soft power: Government wants prosperity, stability, and security, while arts organisations often start from human values. It’s about the journey from those softer outcomes and focuses, which artists instinctively gravitate towards, to those harder ones that Government desires.
The group observed that the UK lacks clear evidence of the benefits of international work, its impact, and its value. It was suggested we audit the UK international cultural capital and open a strategic dialogue about our future focus and strategy. Chiefly, the conversation would be viable if global counterparts from Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere were brought into it. This would enable a fruitful dialogue about the many implications of refocusing international practice.
Conclusions and next steps
It was concluded that a consortium of arts organisations and institutions could be created, who would nurture this strategic dialogue and, importantly, reach out to key counterparts in the rest of the world. Furthermore, it was recommended that a critical mass of evidence be gathered that attests of the benefits of international work, impact and value. These facts, statistics, stories, and testimonies could then be brought to the negotiating table in the hope of influencing future policy. In light of this we welcome your comments, thoughts, ideas to add to the pot.
On December, 15th, Operations Manager, Mary Helen Young relayed the outcomes of the morning at the first event for Somerset House residents on the topic of Brexit alongside Jack Powell of Creative Industries Federation. The feeling was mutual that the initiative should be taken to pool networks that have the weight to lobby for importance of the Europe connection for the creative industries.
Visiting Arts would like to thank all the participants of this first meeting who made the discussion a constructive and forward-looking one.
We expect to take the dialogue into the new year by hosting more such events. If you didn’t make it to this one, keep an eye out for the next one in our newsletter and on our Twitter account, and be sure to sign up. We look forward to seeing you there!