Inspiring Connections: Scotland's International Culture Strategy

This strategy aims to support Scotland's culture and creative sector to be globally connected with the means and opportunities to achieve its international ambitions and potential, and contribute to Scotland’s cultural, social, economic and environmental wellbeing through its international work.


Scotland’s culture and creative sector, organisations and individual practitioners are inherently international. Exchange, collaboration and dialogue are at the heart of how the sector operates, grows and innovates. Creative responses to ideas, identities and societal challenges draw on universal experiences – they are not confined to national borders. Engagement with other cultures, ideas, and approaches is fundamental to the sector, helping it to continue to develop both in its practice and its business models.

International activity can also be an important source of income, supporting the sector’s financial health and sustainability. It allows organisations to take their work to wider audiences and access new markets, increasing the range of income streams upon which they can draw. For some, the additional income that international activity generates is what makes a career in the sector financially viable. This is particularly important in the current environment as a number of significant challenges have impacted the sector financially while at the same time reducing its means to generate income, including through international activity.

Practitioners and creative organisations from around the world bringing their work to Scotland enrich our domestic cultural scene by exposing us to new ideas and other cultures. Scotland’s world-renowned cultural assets, such as our festivals, heritage, and historic environment bring the world to Scotland and provide opportunities to showcase Scottish practitioners and their work to international peers, audiences and industry figures.

This International Culture Strategy defines the culture and creative sector as those individuals or organisations that derive income from work associated with culture, creative activities, heritage or the arts. It considers the strong existing international footprint of Scotland’s culture and creative sector and the value that international work has for the sector, then sets out how the Scottish Government and wider public sector can support its development. While support has been available for aspects of such activity, this is the first time the Scottish Government has set out a strategic focus on international cultural activity. The strategy takes a view of the whole sector and sets out a policy rationale for supporting the sector’s international ambitions. Ultimately, it aims to ensure that international engagement contributes fully to the sector’s long-term development in both cultural and economic terms.

Scotland’s strengths

Scotland’s culture and creative sector is internationally connected and respected for its creativity and excellence but is also recognised for its approaches and business models. A two-part report commissioned by Creative Scotland and British Council Scotland in 2022, To See Ourselves and As Others See Us,[1] provides a rich overview of Scotland’s cultural assets, the opportunities and challenges for the sector as seen from its own perspective, and a global perspective on its distinctive characteristics and strengths. This work demonstrates that Scotland’s cultural assets are not just the activities, performances, festivals, infrastructure, and practitioners that exist in Scotland, but also the approaches and business models that make Scotland distinctive. The sector has a reputation for particular approaches that make organisations keen to work with Scottish peers.

Edinburgh Castle illuminated as part of Castle of Light: Hidden Treasures. VisitScotland/Kenny Lam
A castle lit up with image projections

A perceived authenticity, democratic bottom-up approach, and innovative delivery models are all recognised as being strengths that support mutually beneficial international relationships.

Scotland’s cultural and linguistic diversity is important to international perceptions of Scotland[2] and features heavily in the collaborative marketing outputs of the Brand Scotland Partnership. It adds to the sense that the Scottish culture and creative sector has an authenticity in its output and impetus and an egalitarian and bottom-up approach. Gaelic and Scots language and culture are central to this as part of people’s lived experience. They also support connections with heritage diaspora communities in parts of the world, as well as with other Celtic nations, and provide opportunities for outward and inward international engagement.

Scotland’s five National Performing Companies[3] have international reputations for cultural excellence. They are supported by the Scottish Government to tour internationally, showcasing Scottish culture on the world stage.

Our museums and galleries, including our National Collections[4], are globally connected and have an important role in helping us to understand Scotland’s place in the world. Scottish collections are playing a leading role in addressing historic injustices and demonstrating how steps can be taken to redress their ongoing impacts.

Scotland’s diverse festivals take place year-round all across the country and are a key cultural asset. Edinburgh is internationally renowned for the annual Festivals programme which the city hosts throughout the year. All these festivals help showcase Scotland’s creative talents and innovation, bring the world to Scotland and enrich our domestic culture scene. Festivals connect Scotland’s creative sector with international peers and prospective producers which can also open up opportunities for the development of international careers.

The historic environment is the imprint of the past on our landscape. It helps create the distinct character of our country and its towns, cities, villages and rural areas. It connects us with the people who lived here before us, and tells us about their ideas, identities and ambitions. Scotland’s historic environment is world renowned, attracting visitors from all over the globe. It generated £4.4 billion for Scotland’s economy in 2019 and supported 68,000 full time equivalent jobs mainly in the heritage, tourism and construction sectors. Tourist footfall at heritage attractions was over 18 million in 2019, with half of all international visitors reporting heritage as the key motivation for visiting Scotland.

Scotland’s screen sector has grown significantly in recent years, driven by the efforts of our dedicated screen agency Screen Scotland, which published its own strategy in March 2024. The screen industry generates millions of pounds for Scotland’s economy, creates thousands of jobs and supports careers throughout the sector and ancillary industries. Its gross value-added in 2021 was £627.1 million and it supported 10,940 full-time equivalent jobs.[5] Screen Scotland will continue to support the sector’s growth and development, both in terms of attracting inward investment from international productions and the Scottish productions finding a platform on the world stage. This will increase the cultural and economic impacts and drive wider benefits such as screen tourism.[6] VisitScotland has worked for a number of years developing screen tourism activity and works closely with industry partners and agencies to deliver screen-related marketing campaigns.


In recent years a number of concurrent challenges have negatively impacted on, and curtailed the ability of, cultural organisations to engage internationally. This has affected both their ability to make new cultural connections and income. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the sector more than most, curtailing activity at home and abroad.[7] The rising cost of living has added additional costs to most work at a time when public sector support has been under pressure. Despite these challenges, we know that the sector is committed to implementing fairer ways of working, which is a commitment that the Scottish Government shares. Ensuring that fair work principles, including that practitioners are fairly paid for the work that they do, can introduce additional expense for creative businesses, but in the long term it will support the resilience of the sector through making careers within it sustainable.

These issues have compounded long-term challenges caused by Brexit[8]. The EU is one of the culture and creative sector’s most important international export markets[9] and Brexit has raised barriers to access. Visa and customs regulations have added additional costs and increased the administrative burden of taking work to the EU. It has also made it more difficult for the sector to access particular specialist skills. Scottish organisations can no longer access EU programmes such as Creative Europe or Erasmus+. Creative Europe, the EU’s principal programme in support of the culture and creative sector, has a strong focus on international cultural collaboration and the loss of its developmental impetus is keenly felt.

The sector must also adjust to support collective action against climate change. Scotland has a target to become a net zero source of all greenhouse gases by 2045. There is a clear tension here as international travel, both from and to Scotland, is inescapable if we want to uphold meaningful cultural connections and welcome creative professionals to work in Scotland. While many cultural organisations, in part through the experience of the pandemic, have enhanced their ability to present their work digitally and through doing so have expanded audiences, this is not a solution for much activity, particularly the experience of live performance or the importance of in-person engagement.

“Rè a’ ghalair lèir-sgaoilte, mheudaich mòran bhuidhnean Gàidhlig an làthaireachd air-loidhne gu mòr, a’ gabhail a-steach cuirmean is co-labhairtean. Thug seo barrachd ruigsinneachd do mhòran dhaoine – gu sònraichte luchd-amais eadar- nàiseanta.” Bòrd na Gàidhlig, International Culture Strategy consultation response

Translation: “During the pandemic, many Gaelic organisations increased their online presence significantly, including performances and conferences. This provided greater access for many people – particularly international audiences.”

We must find ways to strike a balance between environmental impact and the value gained from international engagement, while supporting the sector’s longer-term transition to net zero.

Vision and outcomes

Our vision is for the Scottish culture and creative sector to be globally connected with the means and opportunities to achieve its international ambitions and potential, and contribute to Scotland’s cultural, social, economic and environmental wellbeing through its international work.

Our vision and strategic aims will be underpinned by working towards the following outcomes:

  • An innovative, more sustainable and economically stronger culture and creative sector.
  • An internationally connected and diverse culture and creative sector that contributes positively to people and communities.
  • An enhanced international reputation for culture and creativity including Scotland’s response to global challenges.

Our approach aims to ensure that international engagement is a key element of sectoral recovery from recent challenges and supports its long-term development and resilience. It focusses resolutely on sectoral development and the importance of international engagement to the ways in which the sector works, both in its business interests and in the cultural engagement and exchange of ideas that are fundamental to cultural innovation.

This is an approach that has been informed by extensive stakeholder input including through roundtable conversations, which shaped the early principles of the approach, and a consultation survey to which almost 80 organisations and individuals from a wide range of backgrounds responded.[10]

Finally, this strategy is intended to be scalable. Implementation will be informed by the funding that the Scottish Government makes available to the culture sector through its budget processes. The principles of the approach will stand regardless of future constitutional change, but clearly the powers of an independent Scotland would open new avenues through which to support international cultural activity. That would include the formal international presence we would have and membership of the EU and other international institutions like UNESCO. This was set out in detail in Building a New Scotland: Culture in an Independent Scotland, published in February 2024.

Case study – another country’s approach: Québec

Québec was the first North American nation to establish a dedicated Ministry of Culture in 1961, underscoring the profound significance of culture to Québec and its identity. The interventions made over the decades have developed an original and thriving culture and creative sector. The promotion, visibility, and dissemination of Québec works and productions are crucial for artistic vitality.

Québec’s cultural footprint is global in scope and access to foreign markets has increased opportunities for artists and writers to create, produce, and disseminate their work, and in doing so increase the number of jobs available within the sector in Québec.

Québec’s international culture policy focus is focused on cultural promotion, language and practices. It encompasses cooperative approaches with other governments, and includes cultural exchanges with other territories, countries and regions of the world. The showcasing of Québec’s distinct culture, particularly its French identity, is a central component in the promotion of Québec culture abroad.

Québec’s cultural reputation, and above all, its influence, go hand in hand with its ability to promote and defend its interests in various Canadian and international settings, including commercial forums. In this regard, the Québec government, supported by the culture sector, has played a pioneering role in the development, adoption and ratification of the UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Québec is also positioned as a world leader in the integration of culture and sustainable development.

Québec’s international cultural policy objectives have at their heart the development of its culture and creative sector. They are delivered through a number of its institutions including the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec (Québec Arts Council), Société de Développement des Entreprises Culturelles (Society for the Development of Cultural Enterprises), Le Ministère de la Culture et des Communications (Department of Culture and Communications) and Québec’s network of international offices, in which there are 24 cultural officers who support market development for their sector within the territories in which they are based.

Values and principles

This strategy sits under a Culture Strategy for Scotland, published in 2020, and builds on the international ambitions it outlines. The importance of the guiding principles at the heart of that work were reinforced by the views expressed by organisations and individuals during the development of this strategy and are equally relevant here:

  • Culture in Scotland is valued in and of itself.
  • Culture is free to be inspiring and to challenge.
  • Culture is central to the future wellbeing and prosperity of Scotland – cultural, social, economic and environmental.
  • We celebrate the diversity and excellence of cultures in Scotland and the value of open exchange with the wider world.
  • Everyone has the right to participate freely in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits (Article 27, Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
  • Place - community, landscape, language and geography – is important and reflects the creativity of the past and provides inspiration for cultural expression today.

The strategy also connects with and mutually reinforces a wide range of other Scottish Government policies and those that sit with our public bodies, many of which are noted throughout this document.



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