News > International Mobility

International Mobility

VA’s European Information Officer, Christoph Jankowski talks about International mobility matters for the development of culture, creativity and best practise at home and abroad. First published in ArtsProfessional 221, 5 July 2010.


The term ‘mobility’ generally describes the movement of artists for the purposes of residencies, performances, exhibitions, tours, research, etc. Artists have always travelled and worked abroad, for reasons beyond the development of the individual artist’s practice. A change of working context uncovers different perspectives, allowing a depth of understanding that would be difficult to achieve remotely. Mobility stimulates the sharing of experience and best practice, provides a challenge to ideas and aesthetic, enables connections, contributes to creative synergy, and enables training and capacity-building, not only for artists but also for administrators, managers and students. All this helps prevent cultural insularity, xenophobia and a tendency to try and invent models or sty

les of working that have already been developed elsewhere. In these stringent economic times, this is more important than ever.

Mapping Opportunities

There are greater opportunities for mobility today than ever before. International travel is more affordable and diverse. Language barriers are less of an issue, and artistic infrastructure, networks, information provision, organisational capacity and global awareness are all growing. Financial support needs to be more ambitious than simply funding travel, with programmes increasingly aimed at specific outcomes such as foreign relations, career enhancement, new production opportunities, international market development, intelligence/information gathering/sharing, project co-operation/co-production (1), as well as audience and cultural development.

The most obvious barrier to mobility is a lack of funding, but second is a lack of intelligence about activities and host organisations. It is easy to underestimate the increased resources that organisations need to engage in international programmes, and there is often insufficient institutional capacity and resources to run cross-border artistic endeavours. A lack of skills and training can also be a problem: the difficulties of working abroad can range from intercultural misunderstandings, to cultural differences in expectations towards work and practices, plus the practical difficulties of legal systems and visas.

You are here

National funding for mobility tends to focus on bilateral exchanges. Across Europe, national cultural policies still provide little support for multilateral mobility schemes, and pulling together funding from different national sources is a ‘mix and match’ process. Arts Council England’s ‘Grants for the Arts’ scheme offers grants for research and development as well as for arts projects. Cultural institutions linked to embassies have opportunities to develop artistic relationships between their respective countries and the UK. The members of European Union National Institutes for Culture (agencies such as the British Council, Institut Français, Goethe Institut, etc.) can sometimes offer support. There are also trusts and foundations with specific country links that are interested in developing an artistically-guided dialogue, such as the Gulbenkian Foundation. However, there is no single overarching ‘international culture fund’ in the UK which provides support specifically for international artist mobility, although a range of agencies offer support either geographically (e.g. Wales Arts International) or for a specific artform (e.g. Artquest).

European Framework

At the heart of EU funding is the desire for people, products and services to be shared. The EU Culture Programme aims to promote mobility and encourage the transnational circulation of cultural and artistic output and foster intercultural dialogue. It supports mobility by funding cross-border projects. This enables artists and professionals to work in co-operation in other countries. Mobility is a feature and pre-requisite of European-supported arts initiatives, not merely an objective. Mobility support is seen as an investment – it deepens understanding of other countries and cultures.

The part that is most relevant to artist mobility in the Culture Programme is the co-operation projects strand: three or more organisations work on a jointly-developed project. In the past years, the success rate for UK applications for co-operation projects has been up to 75%, compared to an average of around 33% across all 35 eligible countries. However, the number of projects submitted by the UK is fewer per head of population than many other EU countries. The criteria and application process have become a lot more straightforward, and I would encourage people to consider this option; the EU funds 50% of the costs of a Culture Programme-supported project. The various project partners have to seek other sources of funding which can help the sustainability of the project once the European funding ends. Countries which are not specifically eligible can be included within applications, either as associate partners (where their costs are no more than 15% of the total budget) or as selected eligible countries: Mexico in 2012 and South Africa in 2013.

An EU working group is currently discussing a fund to support individual mobility. It is also supporting a number of pilot projects which explore the needs of the sector, and testing initiatives in areas such as audience development, capacity building, training and exchange schemes. Nine projects and four networks are supported at present.

Plotting a course

As money gets tighter and people are increasingly trying to reduce their carbon footprint, there is a danger that mobility projects will diminish. It is timely to reconsider programmes to ensure that they are cost-effective, and that the impacts are maximised: crucial to this is getting good intelligence on what is happening where. Visiting Arts recently piloted an artist residency programme, ‘Square Mile’, which linked artists in residence with wider participatory activity, ensuring that the learning from the residency was spread widely. An emphasis on using online tools, not just in research and development but also in dissemination of learning, should be explored. This, together with easily accessed simple small-scale research funding, would be an important step forward.

Christoph Jankowski is European Information Officer for Visiting Arts, which is the EU Cultural Contact Point in the UK for the European Commission’s Culture Programme. It offers free advice on applications to the Culture Programme, informs on European cultural funding opportunities. Visiting Arts contributes to mobility through its online information services, residency programmes and training seminars.

(1) ERICarts report: Mobility Matters, October 2008

You may also be interested in