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.

Supporting requirements

International work requires cultural organisations to have access to skills, knowledge, expertise and networks, whatever the motivations for this activity might be. It also requires capacity and resource to plan and deliver activity. A lack of capacity and capability can prohibit some organisations and practitioners from realising their ambitions to develop and deliver their international work even when doing so could benefit their practice and financial sustainability. The current context of increased costs and ongoing recovery from the curtailment of work during the Covid19 pandemic has not made this any easier. The additional challenges that have been caused by Brexit have raised cost and administrative barriers to accessing the EU, which remains one of the sector’s most important international markets.[17]

This section of the strategy focuses on the structural factors that support the sector’s international engagement and the importance of this engagement to business models in the sector.


International mobility is central to activities across the culture and creative sector. Without it, creative professionals in Scotland cannot take their work to other countries, and their counterparts from around the world cannot come to Scotland. The ability to carry out international activities such as touring is vital to many individuals and organisations in terms of reaching new audiences, generating income, collaborating and building vital networks across borders, and showcasing Scotland’s culture and creative sector internationally.

However, the sector has been clear that there are many barriers to international mobility such as visa and work permit requirements, customs rules and the general cost of moving between countries. Brexit has put in place significant new barriers which have had a negative impact on this international activity.[18]

A key area of action on the back of this strategy will be efforts to mitigate these impacts. It is likely that this will take several forms. Diplomatic efforts will be explored; for example to put in place bilateral and multilateral measures to exempt creative professionals from certain visa and work permit requirements, particularly for short-term cross-border activities. Adapting the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, as explored in greater detail below, to better reflect the needs of the sector will also be vital.

“[Brexit has] increased costs and complexities of trade in cultural products and services, including from rules governing carnets, cabotage and digitally delivered services.” Festivals Edinburgh, International Culture Strategy consultation response

  • The Scottish Government will continue to push the UK Government to work with other governments and the EU to support visa-free arrangements for touring artists.

Navigating this landscape can be challenging and expensive. The Scottish Government has supported activity to ensure that artists from outside the UK have access to advice on the UK’s post-Brexit visa rules, to minimise impact on the domestic cultural scene as far as possible. While services exist in other countries that can provide advice to Scottish organisations seeking to take their work to those places, the additional costs imposed by Brexit on taking work to the EU are inescapable.

  • The Scottish Government will consider what measures might support Scottish artists to address these challenges.

Cultural export and exchange

The export activity of the culture and creative sector takes various forms. This is often in the form of services such as touring or exhibiting and the ability for individuals and organisations to work across borders is central in delivering these services. Mobility is vital to this, but support for cultural export is also a wider issue about developing connections, providing platforms and supporting organisations to develop the skills and capacity to work internationally. The export of physical goods is also important to elements of the sector. Inbound cultural tourism generates export revenue through visitors coming to Scotland and, as outlined above, the international reputation of Scotland’s culture sector is key to wider perceptions of Scotland. Cultural export has a clear economic rationale but it is also driven by creative practice and the desire to develop new cultural connections and take new ideas and work to wider audiences.

Vietnamese and Scottish musicians, Ly Mí Cường, Nguyễn Trung Bảo and Inge Thomson playing together during Thanh Cảnh, a project bringing together artists from Scotland and Vietnam to explore sound’s relationship to land, language and tradition. Credit: Lên Ngàn/Counterflows
Three musicians sitting down playing musical instruments

At present, support for cultural exports in Scotland is driven by a combination of public and private sector organisations. For example, commercial organisations play an important role in showcasing Scottish music internationally, Creative Scotland provides a range of funds that can support international activity across the sector, while Screen Scotland provides support to film and TV productions to access international markets.

The value of international rights of film and TV projects is what drives the success of content creating companies. Screen Scotland supports the development and production of projects with ambitions to reach international audiences, supports producers to engage with the international distribution, financing and co-production market. Screen Scotland itself also cultivates relationships with the international sales, distribution sector and financing and public funding partners for the benefit of our producing communities.

  • The Scottish Government will continue to work closely with Screen Scotland and enterprise agencies to seek new opportunities abroad to support and grow the screen sector, making Scotland an increasingly attractive production base for international companies and promoting Scotland’s screen talent worldwide.

The Scottish Government funds the Festivals EXPO Fund, which supports Scottish artists to showcase their work and develop international connections through Scottish festivals. EXPO supports between 1,000 and 1,250 artists and freelancers annually, as well as seasonal and permanent employment within the festivals themselves. In turn, these additional commissions and projects raise the international profile, reach and scale of the EXPO funded festivals, and therefore their financial sustainability. In 2023/24 EXPO supported 14 festivals in Edinburgh and Glasgow, provided vital opportunities for international touring EXPO, and created and maintained cultural links with our partners in Europe and priority markets across the world.

Existing support in Scotland has demonstrated significant success but a more strategic and longer term approach, which builds on the best of what we do already and draws on successful models from around the world, will open new opportunities. A range of models exist internationally to support cultural export and exchange either aimed at particular sub-sectors, such as music, or with a broader approach. Stakeholders have identified such support as a gap in current provision and our survey in support of this strategy similarly identified it as an issue. We will explore models for cultural export and exchange support and consider what feasible models for Scotland could look like. While the establishment of a support service for cultural export and exchange could have a very practical impact on the culture and creative sector, it could more generally provide a focal point for our wider approach to international cultural activity. It could advocate for the benefits of international cultural engagement across the Scottish public sector and work to embed new approaches.

  • We will undertake a feasibility study into the development of a support service for cultural export and exchange.

Case study – Momentum

Each year Edinburgh welcomes over 20,000 of the world’s leading arts professionals to enrich its famous August festivals season. The Momentum international delegate programme brings together curators, creative entrepreneurs, funders, media professionals, officials, producers and programmers from all over the world to immerse themselves in this unrivalled showcase of global cultural excellence.

Momentum is delivered by Festivals Edinburgh (on behalf of Edinburgh’s Festivals), British Council Scotland, and Creative Scotland, with additional support from City of Edinburgh Council and EventScotland.

Each year, country-delegations are invited to give a presentation on their professional practice, along with an overview of the cultural sector in their country, to stakeholders from the Scottish arts and cultural sector. Each Momentum delegate is provided with an individually tailored schedule of activities, briefings and meetings to help foster collaboration and exchange. The aim is to encourage new international partnerships, as well as investment in and collaboration with Edinburgh’s festivals and the wider arts sector in Scotland.

Since 2011, Momentum has brought over 850 international delegates to Edinburgh. These visits have resulted in seasons of work being presented by arts organisations from countries including India and New Zealand during the festivals, and opened up opportunities for delegates to forge new connections and develop collaborations with their counterparts in the UK and internationally.

Over 2022 and 2023 Momentum hosted over 80 delegates and engaged with further 120 guests from independent delegations, hailing from over 31 countries. In 2022 over 170 members of the Scottish sector met with delegates, rising to 233 in 2023, this included Festival directors, arts professional across Scotland, and senior policy leaders. These connections regularly result in long term relationships and mutually beneficial collaborations that support the international networks and long term development of the practitioners involved.

Platforms and networks

The Scottish culture and creative sector has a strong track record of working in partnership with key public bodies to maximise the opportunities that international platforms can offer. A Scottish presence and participation in these forums highlights the sector, its strengths and can open doors for further international partnerships. A collaborative approach can add significant value and a number of the examples and case studies highlighted throughout this strategy demonstrate that.

Scotland has a number of domestic and international platforms which can support the development of the sector’s international connections. As we deliver this strategy we will continue to seek ways to increase their capability and impact.

  • We will map out key international cultural networks and platforms and seek to understand where there is potential to support further development of Scottish engagement within them.

Scotland’s festivals are world-leading and a key cultural asset. They attract the world to Scotland, both practitioners and audiences, and enrich the domestic cultural scene. They also provide platforms for the development of Scottish artists’ careers and international connections. The Scottish Government has supported the impact that festivals have as a platform for the development of Scottish artists’ international ambitions through the Festivals EXPO fund.

Internationalism has been at the heart of the Edinburgh Festivals ever since the Edinburgh International Festival was founded in 1947. Run by a partnership of Creative Scotland, Festivals Edinburgh and British Council Scotland, Momentum, outlined in detail above, is a delegate programme aiming to build international relationships and cultivate collaborative opportunities through the festivals.

UNESCO[19] is the principal international organisation with a focus on international cooperation in culture. Scotland has a number of existing connections with UNESCO including our six World Heritage Sites[20] and four Scottish members of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.[21] The recognition of the cultural significance of these areas through these programmes plugs Scotland into important international networks that support knowledge exchange and collaboration, and create opportunities for practitioners through residencies and professional development opportunities. They also promote some of Scotland’s cultural assets internationally, attracting visitors and highlighting some of the strengths of our sector.

  • The Scottish Government will continue to work closely with the UK Permanent Representation to UNESCO and we will explore ways in which our relationship with UNESCO can be enhanced.

Case study - Scotland’s UNESCO Trail

Scotland’s UNESCO Trail is a proud testament to Scotland’s diverse and vibrant culture, heritage and historic environment and connects the country’s 13 place-based UNESCO designations, including World Heritage Sites, Biospheres, Global Geoparks and Creative Cities to form a dedicated digital trail. It aims to take visitors on a cultural journey across the country experiencing everything from history to science, music, design and literature to nature and cityscapes. The creation of the Trail was developed through £360,000 of Scottish Government funding.

The Trail was developed in a global-first partnership between the Scottish Government, UK National Commission for UNESCO, Scotland’s site designation representatives, VisitScotland, Historic Environment Scotland, NatureScot and the National Trust for Scotland. The project is managed by VisitScotland. It has won various awards including Tourmag’s ‘Cesar for Sustainable Tourism’ Award; the Santagata Foundation Award for UNESCO Territories 2022; and the Wanderlust Travel Sustainability Award. Since launching, VisitScotland’s social media posts for the Trail have received over 2.5 million interactions.

Scotland’s UNESCO Trail promotes local tourism businesses that are developing responsible tourism activity. The Trail aims to support sustainable tourism, encouraging visitors to learn about the designations and to visit and experience them in a way that is meaningful for the visitor, and is responsible and sustainable for the designation and the surrounding community. The Trail provides information that allows visitors to choose greener travel options and encourages people to think about the most suitable time of year to visit. All local businesses referenced in the Trail are part of green accreditation schemes.

The UNESCO Trail highlights the importance of our relationship with UNESCO and why the Scottish Government wants to build and strengthen our connections. In October 2022, the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture co-hosted an event with support from the UK Delegation to UNESCO that engaged with over 50 UNESCO delegates from various missions to celebrate the Trail. We will continue to look for new ways of enhancing this relationship.

V&A Dundee, Scotland’s design museum. Dundee is the UK’s only UNESCO City of Design. VisitScotland/Kenny Lam
A museum building on the waterfront

Scotland has long identified the intrinsic importance of intangible cultural heritage for local communities, and as part of our national identity. Although the UK Government announced its intention to ratify UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in late 2023, Scotland has been a vocal proponent of ratification for many years. Scotland is ahead of the other UK nations in our online inventory which has been developed through the Scottish Intangible Cultural Heritage Partnership, a collaboration between Museums Galleries Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) and Creative Scotland. The Scottish Government recognises the incredible potential in the inclusivity and awareness that intangible cultural heritage provides, and believes that by valuing each other’s traditions, cultures, stories and songs we all have much to gain both in Scotland and beyond.

  • The Scottish Government will continue to encourage the UK Government as the UNESCO Member State to act on advice from the Scottish Intangible Cultural Heritage Partnership and learn from the experiences of other UNESCO Member States, including in providing appropriate resource to deliver impactful work post-ratification.

Beyond the opportunities outlined above, we will continue to explore further ideas to support cultural exchange, collaboration and dialogue through domestic and international platforms. This will include the Edinburgh International Culture Summit which was established in 2012 and has since been delivered on a biennial basis through a partnership of the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament, British Council Scotland, Edinburgh International Festival, and the UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It has been an important platform for intergovernmental dialogue on culture policy and the common challenges we face. At the time of writing, this initiative is currently undergoing a review process in which the Scottish Government will work with other partners to reshape its role as an important forum for international cultural engagement. It will also include Scotland + Venice, which is similarly undergoing a process of review, but has been an important platform through which to showcase Scottish creative practitioners.

Connections with the EU

International mobility was a key element of our relationship with the EU. It supported Scottish organisations to take their work to an audience of 500 million people with limited restrictions to doing so. And it allowed their counterparts from around the EU to come to Scotland, enriching festivals and the wider cultural scene, supporting exchange and collaboration, and bringing skills, talent and ideas here.

  • The Scottish Government will continue to lobby the UK Government for improvements in the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the aim of ensuring free movement of creative professionals between the UK and EU.

Brexit has cut access to the Creative Europe programme, the EU’s key support mechanism for Europe’s culture sector. The programme’s focus on international cultural collaboration across all the diverse elements of the sector and the transnational framework through which it delivers support are key elements in its success. It is one of the only programmes delivered outwith national institutions, allowing it to focus on the importance of transnational cultural connections. Scottish organisations were well-represented within projects funded through the programme and attached significant importance to being able to participate in projects that supported links with counterparts across Europe.

Case study - Creative Europe

The Creative Europe Programme is the European Union’s principal funding programme in support of the European culture and creative sector, including the screen sector. It supports a wide range of activity but at its heart is a commitment to the importance of international cultural collaboration and the many positive impacts that it can achieve. Its budget in its current seven-year cycle is €2.44 billion.

Scottish organisations were prominent and valued participants in many Creative Europe projects and proportionately were very well-represented in work supported by the programme. This success brought important funding to these organisations, but most important were the connections that it supported them to make and the learning, development and innovation achieved through them.

A report into the value of Creative Europe in the UK published in 2018 highlighted both the financial and non-financial impacts of the programme. It found that funding had boosted job creation, output and exports, and led to additional investment being secured. It supported organisations to develop international connections and networks in support of their work. And it also enabled innovation, research and development, supporting organisations to take risks and explore opportunities that otherwise would not have been open to them.

The UK Government’s decision not to seek to negotiate ongoing participation in Creative Europe has left a significant gap that cannot be filled by domestic programmes. The transnational framework through which the programme is delivered is vital to its success, ensuring that decisions are taken outside of the considerations of national organisations and keeping the focus only on the importance and value of cultural collaboration.

The Usher Hall during the Edinburgh International Festival. VisitScotland/Kenny Lam
A concert hall building in the sunshine with a welcome sign

The UK Government, in spite of the views of the Scottish Government, other devolved administrations, and the vast majority of opinion in the culture sector across the UK, decided not to seek ongoing participation in the Creative Europe programme through post-Brexit trade negotiations. It did though negotiate for ongoing participation in Horizon Europe, the EU’s key programme in support of research and innovation. Renewed access to the Creative Europe, and other EU programmes, would be of significant value to the sector.

  • The Scottish Government will consider how links with the Creative Europe programme can be enhanced so that Scottish cultural organisations can re-engage with the vital channels for exchange, collaboration and learning that the programme facilitates.
  • Alongside this, the Scottish Government will continue to lobby the UK Government to seek to re-join the Creative Europe programme.



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