Given the increase in international presentations in the UK over the past thirty years, and issues such as cultural diversity and globalisation frequently being addressed in the arts, is there an opportunity to increase professional development opportunities for arts managers working internationally? Lara Riley explores.

Increasingly, the inward flow of arts from overseas is seen as vital to the enrichment of artists? practice, the nurturing of audiences? deeper understanding of the histories of diaspora communities in the UK, and our knowledge of contemporary environments and cultures of other countries. So where can international exchanges fit in? Research recently undertaken by Visiting Arts, in partnership with Arts Council England (ACE), has shown that the key support needed by those working internationally is in understanding the international context, contact-building and finance.

Contacts with China

The five-week China?UK Arts Management Placement Programme took place in October last year at the instigation of Visiting Arts and the request of the Chinese Ministry of Culture. It was run in partnership with ACE and the British Council China with the support of the Scottish Arts Council and the Ministry of Culture of the People?s Republic of China. The programme involved 16 Chinese arts managers and 22 arts organisations across the UK. The placements were developed in consultation with the individual arts managers involved, and a lead-in time of up to eight weeks was allowed for the structure of the placement to be developed. On arrival in the UK, the Chinese arts managers took part in a one-week workshop in London, in an attempt to give them an overview of the UK cultural system to help contextualise the placements that followed. The programme concluded with a networking reception and a debriefing seminar. The programme structure allowed for a true exchange of skills, contacts, ideas, passions and concepts, often leading to collaborative projects.

The chance to meet people working across all departments of a similar organisation gives the person involved the opportunity to draw comparisons, leading to a deeper understanding of the differences and similarities, both in terms of context and the methodology. Fiona Stewart of the Big Chill, who participated in the programme, commented, ?I thoroughly enjoyed hosting Nee Bing. His concepts, ethos and ideas are extremely interesting to me as they come from such a different background. The fact that he works in a similar industry has opened a door into his culture as it further illustrates the differences and similarities between us through the different working practices.?

Exchanges are based on dialogue and the sharing of ideas and having the opportunity to take a step back and look at what you do and why you do it. Seventy-six per cent of UK hosts taking part in the China?UK programme cited this exchange of ideas about policy and practice as a key benefit of being involved. The chance to reflect, combined with making contacts and gaining a wider knowledge of context, resulted in 88% of hosts proposing further contact with China in the form of an artistic collaboration or exchange.

Practical considerations

Despite the clear benefits, national programmes for practising arts managers to work alongside their international counterparts are scarce. This is primarily due to the resources required in terms of administration and finance, and the time and commitment needed by those taking part. There are also dangers in managing expectations on either side. Prior to any exchange it is vital to have a sensible lead-in time to allow for in-depth discussions and clear communication of each other?s aims and objectives. Consideration also needs to be given to the effect on all staff within an organisation, such as having to undertake work in a colleague?s absence. Hosting an exchange will often affect many members of staff other than the lead contact, particularly in smaller organisations. Culture shock and issues surrounding language can also be significant barriers if not addressed early on.

In terms of finance, a programme involving inward visits to the UK can run to thousands of pounds per individual ? international air fares, accommodation, daily allowances, local transport, visas, work permits, insurance, vaccinations and ticket allowances (so work can actually take place during the exchange!) all add up. The logistics also take time to plan and organise. Sarah Gardner, Executive Director of International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies (IFACCA), says: ?An exchange between Australia and Ireland has taken four months to develop, because the cost of air fares, living allowances, and the details of timetabling, accommodation, insurance, tax and work permits all took a surprisingly long time to establish.?

Increasing demand

The demand for such programmes is leading to more agencies now beginning to provide opportunities for international exchanges. Both the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and the Clore Leadership Programme have mentioned the inclusion of an international dimension in their programmes. The Informal European Theatre Meeting ? a membership organisation aimed at developing performing arts around the world ? is developing its on-the-move website concerned with professional mobility, travel to (and work in) places beyond Europe (, and IFACCA has begun a programme which encourages exchanges between member agencies ( At Visiting Arts we are continuing to work with other agencies and new partners in developing our professional development programmes for arts managers from the UK and overseas.

Given the benefits ? and as more and more organisations look to become increasingly sophisticated in their international working ? the demand for exchange opportunities, placement schemes or job swaps is set to increase.

Lara Riley is Professional Development Manager at Visiting Arts. t: 020 7291 1600; e:;