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There was definitely an unintended irony of running an event this week called ‘How can arts centres work internationally?’. However, 40+ arts centre CEOs and artistic directors turning up for the day suggests that reaching out beyond the UK feels more important than ever.
The event was the culmination of a Future Arts Centres (FAC) programme, funded by Arts Council England, to explore exactly that question. As Co-Chair of FAC I have been privileged to travel all over the world as part of this programme, to Europe and the US as well as places such as Santiago, Mexico City and Beirut. Understanding how arts and culture plays out in other places, some very similar and some very different, has undoubtedly helped me better understand what we need to do, here in Stockton, to ensure our work makes a difference to our local community. It’s also enabled me to share our own experiences, to connect Stockton, the Tees Valley and the UK to other communities around the world - from seeing theatres in Philadelphia adopt our Pay What You Decide pricing model, to exchanging ideas about delivering work with care-experienced young people in Santa Cruz.
The event was an opportunity to share learning with other arts centre CEOs, and to tap into experience of working internationally from across the arts sector. Arts centres are rooted in their local communities. We have been exploring how we can honour these roots and at the same time work internationally.
This quest has underpinned six FAC international co-commissions, announced this week. These new pieces of work are a true reflection of our principles, embracing artistic excellence, diversity and local people. We are very proud to be hosting two of them here in Stockton, including Welcome Town in June this year.
There is no doubt that despite the current challenges around our future relationship with Europe, the arts sector is hugely committed to continuing to work across the world. Sharing ideas and ambitions through the day was both inspiring and oddly reassuring.