The Future Arts Centres network, to whom I’m a Critical Friend, recently held a network meeting on the subject of internationalism at the Albany in Deptford.  Internationalism has been a major strand of activity for the network, through an Arts Council England ‘Ambitions for Excellence’-funded project. You can read a lot of reflection by various people involved on the FAC blog

I chaired two sessions on different models of international working, with a focus on international activity that wasn’t all about touring. Both were stimulating, raising some useful practical thoughts, the one with most traction being the idea of a platform for sharing where and how people work internationally, opportunities and offers, so that people could join up more effectively. Connecting the FAC network to HE arts networks, which are often also highly international given the nature of the contemporary university, was also suggested. The different dynamics around rural and urban centres were also highlighted, as was the ongoing need to articulate the value of internationalism under local scrutiny/misunderstanding of the costs. (Although the cost-effectiveness was also noted – especially compared to train travel within the UK.)

The discussions suggested some recurrent models of internationalism that seem of particular relevance to arts centres, and some that seemed to be rejected or avoided. (This is not a comprehensive list of the models that could be found in what people are up to, which was tremendously varied.)

·     Internationalism as anti-isolationism – the breaking of insularity, long-term dialogue, connecting communities where arts centres have their roots to other ways of thinking/being – and connecting diaspora/diverse communities their to international backgrounds – were particularly important given B****t
·     Internationalism as solidarity – for many connecting to others with similar values but different traditions (or indeed, traditions with surprising similarities) was an act of cultural or political solidarity
·     Internationalism as developmental experience – for artists, staff teams, organisations international work can be invigorating and rewarding
·     Internationalism as exchange – of people, ideas, work in both/several directions
·     Internationalism as exploration – connecting internationally brings in lateral perspectives, different ways of doing things as well as practical connections and ideas to bring back
·     Internationalism as dialogue – engaging with different cultures and artistic practices led to new ideas, as well as encouraging articulation of people’s own values and modes
·     Internationalism as reflection – there is something in ‘the journey’ that encourages reflection on home and on future possibilities 
·     Internationalism as collaboration - actively working with others, rather than swapping things

What people were much less interested in included:
·     Internationalism as exotic holiday or gap year, let alone ‘jolly’
·     Internationalism purely as import/export business
·     Internationalism as cultural colonialism
·     Internationalism as promotion of GREAT Britain or as self-promotion

One important point made that applies to any model – and indeed to how arts centres work generally perhaps – was that organisations should think more about the offer their international work/presence creates than the ask it makes. 

I would suggest this includes what you might call the offer to ourselves, which from my international experience comes down to this: the world and our ways are not natural or universal, and they do not have to stay how they are. But maybe that is simply the offer all culture makes us…

(Images above relate to one of my formative international experiences, collaborating with UK and Bulgarian poets on poet-to-poet translations. English with Bulgarian texts of all poets available from Arc in Todmorden, Bulgarian translations of the four North East-based poets available from Small Stations in Sofia. Snap it up, Cyrillic readers!)