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.

The impact of international cultural engagement

The culture and creative sector’s international connections have many important impacts on the way practitioners and organisations work. They support cultural innovation and learning, the development of new ideas, approaches and business models, and allow organisations to take their work to wider audiences.[11] Accessing new markets can open up opportunities to develop and diversify income streams, which supports financial sustainability and resilience. Inward international cultural activity upholds the world-leading position of Scotland’s festivals and enriches Scotland’s domestic cultural scene by exposing us to new ideas and cultures.

Fundamentally, international collaboration and exchange reflects the culture sector’s inherent values. It exemplifies its openness, internationalism and commitment to engagement with other cultures and ideas and desire to share knowledge and best practice to support international peers. Relationships of reciprocal exchange have mutual benefit.

This section considers the importance of international engagement for the sector and what this strategy seeks to impact. It draws strongly on responses received through the survey the Scottish Government undertook in 2023 to inform the development of this strategy.

Cultural innovation, learning and development

Engagement is at the heart of what many cultural organisations do, be that with audiences, amongst peers or through cross-sector collaboration.

A key motivating factor behind much creative practice is inspiration and the exploration of new ideas, considering shared challenges and values, and seeking to develop our understanding of other cultures while reflecting on our own. International cultural exchange helps us as a society to reflect on our own place in the world, the position of others, and can raise awareness and understanding of global and local challenges.

International engagement provides positive exposure to innovative approaches and learning opportunities for creative practitioners. Establishing connections, building networks and the collaboration that can be facilitated through them supports innovation, development and strengthens the sector. More formal skills and knowledge exchange through international forums such as conferences and delegations also has an important role.

Sharing experience and drawing on others’ knowledge and expertise supports innovation and cultural excellence. Few, if any, art forms are confined to national borders, so to continue to innovate, organisations and artists must develop and maintain creative connections with peers around the world.

“The value and importance of learning from best practice models globally cannot be understated and this works both ways, in that not only does Scotland benefit from knowledge and expertise elsewhere but Scotland is also recognised as a leader in areas of museums and galleries work.” Museums Galleries Scotland, International Culture Strategy consultation response

We want to ensure that cultural practitioners and organisations are able to develop their international connections so they can foster and build collaborative relationships. This intent is at the heart of the actions outlined throughout this strategy.

Case study - PUSH+

The PUSH+ project came out of a desire in the children’s theatre and dance sector to create work that is high quality and relevant, while representing and reflecting a more diverse range of stories.

PUSH+ (2019-2022) was led by Imaginate (Scotland) alongside Aaben Dans (Denmark), Krokusfestival (Belgium), Scenekunstbruket (Norway) and The Ark (Ireland), and was funded by Creative Europe. The project brought together these five partners to stimulate European dialogue and initiate new artistic ideas and performances around important topics in performance for young audiences – encouraging artists to take more risks, to address the underrepresentation of different lives and bodies on stage and to tell stories that really connect with children and who they are.

The work explored three topics: Home, Failure and Different Bodies. Each topic was explored through an 8 day residential Lab, artist residencies and festival visits. The project culminated with a final showcase in September 2022.

The international partnership brought together artists from different cultural and social backgrounds and stimulated dialogue and future collaborations. Artists challenged their practice, developed new approaches, learned from their peers and created new networks.

The project has had a lasting impact on partners and artists with many remaining in contact and planning new projects together. Several of the Scotland-based artists have subsequently been commissioned to develop new work or found international co-production opportunities. All who took part also shared a desire to make work which would push boundaries and challenge the status quo going forward. International collaboration and exchange of ideas were vital to its impact, providing opportunities for engagement and learning that otherwise would not have existed.

Business development

International engagement can open opportunities to develop new audiences and access new markets. For some organisations and practitioners it is their international activity that makes it possible to have a financially sustainable career in their field.

“Identifying fruitful new opportunities and markets internationally should help to aid growth and sustainability of those enterprises involved, providing additional and increased income streams, whilst also acknowledging additional risk and costs.” South of Scotland Enterprise, International Culture Strategy consultation response.

International exports are a major source of revenue for Scotland’s culture and creative sector and they have seen considerable growth over the last decade. In 2021, exports from the sector stood at £3.8 billion or 4.7% of Scotland’s total exports.[12]

International activity across the sector is varied and wide-ranging. Certain sub-sectors have a particular focus on international trade in services. For example, international touring is a key element of business models in the music and performing arts sectors. That affects individual artists, organisations such as orchestras, and other professionals such as sound engineers and lighting technicians. It has been estimated that musicians receive around 70% of their income from touring.[13] Similarly, exhibiting internationally is important to the visual arts sector and museums and galleries. The screen sector and those working in it benefit considerably from cross-border projects, co-productions and inward investment. These activities have unique impacts beyond income, such as the development of cross- border networks and relationships, and expansion of audiences. Pre-Brexit, access to the EU was particularly important for artists in the early stages of their careers. This was in part due to the accessibility of the EU market, with relatively inexpensive transport links compared with other international markets. However, costs were also significantly minimised due to freedom of movement within the EU. There are now additional challenges associated with these activities, such as visa and work-permit requirements when working in different countries, many of which have been exacerbated by Brexit.

Alan Cumming performing in Burn in 2022, a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, The Joyce Theater in New York and Edinburgh International Festival
A solo performer stands in the centre of a stage

The export of goods and intellectual property also plays a role in supporting the sector. The export of textiles, crafts, visual art and physical copies of literature and music provide vital revenue for much of the sector. Physical goods are often sold as a means of generating additional revenue as part of international work such as tours. In this area, merchandise sales are of particular value to the music sector. Again, while the international sale of physical goods brings many benefits to the sector, there are also challenges, such as customs and tax requirements.

Reputation and values

“The strength of Scotland’s cultural reputation brings us a voice in international dialogue far beyond our size.” Culture Counts, International Culture Strategy consultation response

There is no doubt that culture in a wide sense is central to positive perceptions of Scotland internationally and to our attractiveness as a destination and partner. In 2022, Scotland was ranked 15th out of 60 countries in the Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index[14] in terms of survey respondents’ perceptions of Scotland’s culture. This overall ranking would be higher if the culture dimension did not include perceptions of sporting excellence as a sub- category.

The culture sector is vital to this. Its international footprint highlights Scotland to the rest of the world and has significant secondary impacts. Work by Screen Scotland for example shows that overnight tourists motivated to visit Scotland by screen productions increased from 525,000 in 2016 to 656,000 in 2019 (328,000 domestic, and 328,000 international), spending £56.8 million in Scotland.[15] It can also be a driver of higher value tourism. For example, Festival Edinburgh’s analysis of the 2022 festival season shows that while audience numbers were 30% lower than in 2019 pre-pandemic, increased spending by visitors meant that the economic impact of the festivals was 97% of pre- pandemic levels.[16]

It is also clear that many cultural organisations see themselves and their work as having a role to play in presenting Scotland internationally. This is directly related to their creative practice and the exploration of identities, histories and ideas. Through their work they can explore Scotland’s place in the world and enter creative conversations about the values that we might wish to uphold in relationships with other countries. This seeks to understand and present views of Scotland, our relationship with the wider world and common challenges in the 21st century. It also helps us to form a more complete picture of our past and the legacies of its more difficult aspects.

The Scottish Government’s new International Strategy has set out a range of priorities and actions for its international activity. International cultural cooperation is a key lever through which we can build on Scotland’s impressive reputation as a cultural and creative hub. This means supporting the culture sector to engage in cultural dialogue and present its work in international forums. However, it also means going beyond showcasing what we do and supporting the sector to realise tangible partnerships and outcomes that promote experimentation and innovation, bring economic benefits and new trade and investment relationships, and promote Scotland as a place to visit.



Back to top