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A new five-year global arts strategy and £30m Cultural Protection Fund will help strengthen the UK’s cultural connections with the rest of the world.

Photo of a mural of a woman
D*Face's mural 'Catrina' in Mexico City, part of the The All City Canvas project

British Council Mexico

The British Council is hoping to double the amount of UK arts activity taking place internationally with a refreshed global arts strategy and increased budget.

The new strategy coincides with its launch of a £30m Cultural Protection Fund in partnership with the DCMS. The Fund will provide grants to organisations to work with partners in the Middle East and North Africa to preserve cultural heritage.

An expanding remit

The 2016-21 arts strategy aims to strengthen cultural connections between the UK and the rest of the world by positioning the UK as a global hub for collaboration, capacity building and policy development. The British Council plans to work with more than 100,000 artists and organisations around the world over the next five years.

Last year the British Council invested around £49.5m through its arts programme – a 30% increase on five years ago. This year its budget has grown to £57.5m.

Director Arts Graham Sheffield said “Our work in the arts – with multiple UK and overseas partners – has expanded beyond recognition in the last five years. More impact, more scale, more reach, more resource (both financial and human) – our ambition has developed into this bold and confident manifesto of what we believe we can achieve for the UK globally in the arts and creative industries up until 2021.”

The British Council’s areas of focus include: 

  • Arts for Social Change: creating safe spaces for culture, creative exploration and exchange.
  • Sharing arts with the world: creating new opportunities for artists and organisations to work internationally and introducing audiences around the world to the best of UK creativity.
  • Capacity building: strengthening the arts sector worldwide by developing its capacity to innovate, to reach new audiences, to develop skills and support livelihoods.
  • Fostering collaboration and networks: raising awareness of international opportunities among UK organisations and supporting artists and companies to internationalise and develop new networks.
  • Policy and research: Understanding and shaping cultural policy.

Protecting cultural heritage overseas

The Cultural Protection Fund is identified as a key part of the strategy. Over the next five years, it will invest £30m to safeguard and promote cultural heritage in conflict-affected regions overseas.

It is launched as new legislation, which will ratify the 1954 Hague Convention to protect cultural property at risk due to conflict, is being debated in the House of Lords.

The Fund will initially be focussed on projects in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Palestinian Territories, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen. It will support projects providing local professionals with training in conserving cultural assets; helping to boost local and national economies by protecting and rebuilding heritage sites; and fostering opportunities for tourism, research and employment.

UK-based organisations will be able to apply for up to £500k from the Fund when its first round opens on 27 June. Multi-year grants of up to £3m are also available.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport John Whittingdale, said: “This fund will provide vital support for countries where cultural heritage is at risk. While the UK's priority will continue to be limiting the human cost of global conflicts, we should do all we can to prevent the destruction of unique and important sites around the world.” 

A photo of Frances Richens