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Over half of Arts Council England’s NPOs are reaping rewards working internationally, but larger organisations and those based in London tend to benefit most financially.

Photo of dancers on stage
Wayne McGregor | Random Dance: Atomos in Moscow

Working internationally can be a valuable source of income for arts organisations and contribute towards financial sustainability and resilience, according to a new report.

Research into the international activity of arts and cultural organisations, commissioned by Arts Council England, found that 243 of England’s National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) generated £34m through international activities in 2014/15.

The primary motivation for an arts organisation to work internationally was to experience and learn from other cultures.

Carried out by agency TBR and partners, the research examined the extent, nature and value of international activity by NPOs. It aimed to shed light on the challenges and successes that cultural organisations experience from working internationally.

Over half (55%) of those who took part in the research reported engaging in international initiatives of some sort during 2014/15. Most said that this involvement was limited to five or fewer projects, although two reported working on more than 100 projects. NPOs with more than 100 staff were the most likely to be working internationally.

International activities

Taking UK artists abroad was the most common form of international activity, but the work studied in the research also included overseas residencies, hosting foreign artists in the UK, overseas touring and international co-productions.

Certain art forms reported more international activities than others, with dance, literature and visual arts organisations most active internationally, and combined arts, theatre and music slightly less so.

Financial details

243 NPOs were able to provide financial details of their total income from international activities, which averaged £140k per organisation and represented 7% of their total income. The average surplus of income over costs was 9%.

But the averages hide the uneven income distribution. Eight NPOs reported total income of over £1m from their international work, and London’s NPOs attracted over half (53%) of all reported revenues, while the North generated just 8%, despite a quarter of all NPOs engaged in international activity being based there.

Earned income

The revenues were primarily from earned income, such as box office takings, although this work also attracted public subsidy and contributed income from fundraising activities.

In total, £18.5m was generated in earned income by the 229 NPOs that were able to provide this information, with the largest NPOs generating two-thirds of this.

36% of organisations generated between 1% and 20% of their total earned income from this work, and for 3%, their international work generated all of their earned income. 29% of NPOs generated no earned income at all from their international activity.

London’s NPOs were particularly successful at generating earned income, they accounted for 61% of the total.

The research also suggests that NPO expenditure on international projects can lever additional funding from elsewhere. The NPOs that worked on co-productions or larger collaborative projects reported spending £5.9m on international projects which brought in a further £10.6m from elsewhere.

Liz Hill