We are aware that the funded distribution of international culture remains focused on a network of capital cities. A major show in Paris, will go on to Berlin, to London – it may go to Manchester or Liverpool; but these capitals are already default beneficiaries of international culture. Major art institutions are generally located in the major cities and define their majority. They are the default host of the ‘big-name’ international artists. Yet the capitals are already have a set of ‘attractors’ (through signature architecture, networks of transport, tourism, history, art schools, work opportunities, music and club scenes) which centralizes international culture, even without the sustained aid of the agencies and cultural embassies established to promote the formal, officially sanctioned end of the spectrum of these exchanges.
It is different for large non-capital cities, for coastal towns and rural communities. Local access to international work in these places can have the kind of transformative impact that it rarely has in the capital cities, where there isn’t the muffle of ‘art saturation’. There should be even more encouragement and support of international artists to present across the breadth of the country. In doing so, those in London would travel to places they might not otherwise visit for an artwork.
Expanding where international works tour in the UK positively changes the dynamics and hierarchies of the art scene nationally, challenging assumptions as to where the most exciting work is to be found.
Of course an engagement with international arts culture does not solely lie in the showcasing of acclaimed work. We more interested in searching for additional modes of operating internationally, both in the long and short-term, than replicating existing models of touring. We’ve talked of establishing a Fierce Hotel in the West Midlands, where artists from abroad and nationally can co-habit and engage deeply with each other and the UK arts scene over a number of weeks. We intend to align our desire to engage internationally with more consideration of when we travel by plane and how often. Coupled with this is an ongoing and increasing use of online social technologies to talk to artists and curators and develop projects. Over the next year we’ll be researching and developing a model of international engagement that best suits our festival and Birmingham, one that we hope will be applicable to other organisations and practices. If you have suggestions, experiences or ideas that might contribute to this research please post them.