Main menu

Skip to content

Working Internationally with UK Museums

Join Today

London exhibitions: 3 must-visit events celebrating Black women

This article was first published in Stylist https://www.stylist.co.uk/travel/experiences/london-exhibitions-black-artists-photography/428113

In a society engineered for white people, there is no end of barriers for those who aren’t. We see it in almost every industry. For example, in the education system where 83% of teachers are white or how Black-owned businesses are twice as likely to be rejected for business loans.

The art world is famously difficult to get into and for years Black artists have struggled to make their voices heard. As the Financial Times says, over the years Black artists have been “written out of history books, ignored by dealers and struggled to make a living without a viable collector base.” This resistance to honour the world of people of colour has only intensified when the subject matter has drawn attention to this struggle. But a change is coming.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, Black artists and their plights are starting to be celebrated, as they always should have. And in the run up to Black History Month, London will become host to a plethora of exhibitions that honour Black artists and, in particular, Black women.

Here, we’ve started to compile a list of the must-visit shows coming up this autumn and we’ll keep adding to it. In fact, if you have any you’d like to shout about drop Megan an email on megan.murray@stylist.co.uk

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors

What: A celebration of 45 female Black British academics and professors across a broad range of subjects including law, medicine, creative writing and sociology, shown through the medium of black and white photography. The exhibition has been commissioned and curated by Dr Nicola Rollock and photographed by Bill Knight to highlight the fact that fewer than 1% of professors in the UK are Black.

When: From 10 October until 8 November 2020, timed to coincide with Black History Month.

How much: Free

Where: Outdoors, along the Southbank Centre’s public riverside promenade The Queen’s Walk, Belvedere Road, London, SE1.

Zanele Muholi

What: Visual artist Zanele Muholi’s (pronouns: they/them) first major mid-career survey which spans a spectrum of their most intense and intimate photographs. Many of these photographs aim to convey the confidence and beauty of the subject, who often has been subject to prejudice and violence.

When: 4 November 2020 (10am-6pm) and 10 November 2020 (6.45pm-9.30pm).

How much: £13 or free if you’re a member of The Tate.

Where: Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG.

Say My Name

What: Say My Name is an exhibition of works curated by gallery director Khalil Akar and presented by Ava DuVernay to celebrate Black History Month. It will feature 13 African artists and honours the names of Black lives which have been lost at the hands of the police, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Signature African Art will donate its share of proceeds from the sales of these works to the Floyd and Taylor families.

When: 27 October until 28 November 2020.

How much: Free

Where: Signature African Art, 20 Davies Street, Mayfair, W1K 3DT.

UNESCO launches the “Li Beirut” initiative to support education, putting culture and heritage at the heart of reconstruction efforts

This article was first published by the Inter Press Service news agency http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/09/unesco-launches-li-beirut-initiative-support-education-putting-culture-heritage-heart-reconstruction-efforts/

The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, on Thursday 27 August launched an international fund raising appeal, Li Beirut (For Beirut in Arabic), to support the rehabilitation of schools, historic heritage buildings, museums, galleries and the creative economy, all of which suffered extensive damage in the deadly explosions that shook the Lebanese capital on 4 August.

As she launched Li Beirut, the Director-General expressed the unflagging solidarity of UNESCO with the people of Lebanon.

“UNESCO, of which Lebanon is a founding member, stands at their side to mobilize the international community and support the city’s recovery for and through culture, heritage and education” Ms Azoulay declared.

The Director-General emphasized UNESCO’s commitment to applying the highest internationally recognized professional and management standards in coordinating support for education and culture in the framework of UN assistance to Lebanon. “I solemnly call for the historic centre to be protected – through administrative measures and appropriate regulations – to prevent property speculation and transactions taking advantage of residents’ distress and vulnerability,” she added.

In addition to coordinating UN efforts to support education in Beirut, which will require $23 million, UNESCO has committed to the immediate rehabilitation of 40 of the 159 affected schools with funds it has already raised. In the coming months, UNESCO will prioritize funding for schooling and distance learning, an urgent issue for the 85,000 affected students. “We must focus on education, because it is a major concern for families and it is where Lebanon’s future will be played out,” said the Director-General. To this end, the Global Education Coalition, put in place by UNESCO during the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. will hold a Special Session on the situation in Lebanon on 1 September.

UNESCO will also lead international coordination efforts for the recovery and reconstruction of Beirut’s culture and heritage and raise funds to respond to the crisis affecting the cultural sector. “We must protect the spirit of the city, even as we work to rebuild it. We must build back – but, more importantly, we must build back well. This means protecting the unique heritage of these neighbourhoods, respecting the city’s history, and supporting its creative energy,” said Ms Azoulay. According to preliminary estimates, $500,000,000 are needed to support heritage and the creative economy over the coming year, with museums, galleries and cultural institutions expected to experience substantial losses in revenues. UNESCO will conduct priority interventions to stabilize, secure and safeguard several historic buildings located in the most affected neighbourhoods.

As part of these actions, Ms Azoulay said, “We are determined to mobilize the international community both for built heritage and museums, and for the hard-hit creative sector, by supporting artists and cultural professionals, whom UNESCO will also bring together in three ResiliArt debates in September.” To finance these operations on the ground, a UNESCO donors’ conference for Beirut will be organized before the end of September.

During her two-day visit, the Director-General took stock of the situation through meetings with artists, members of the cultural sector and creative industries, including NGOs and local partners.

Source: UNESCO

Six African heritage sites under threat from climate change

This article was first published by the BBC https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54158901

From rock art in southern Africa to pyramids along the River Nile, humans have been leaving their mark across the continent for millennia.

Writing in the Azania journal, researchers from the UK, Kenya and the US say that “significant intervention” is needed to save these heritage sites.

As if to underline the warning, in recent weeks archaeologists in Sudan have been trying to stop floodwater from the River Nile from reaching the UN-designated World Heritage Site at al-Bajrawiya.

The river floods every year, but people working in the area have never seen the water spread so far.

The authors of the Azania report have identified a number of sites that they consider under threat.

Suakin, in north-eastern Sudan, was once an extremely important port on the Red Sea.

Its story began 3,000 years ago, when Egyptian pharaohs turned the strategically located port into a gateway for trade and exploration.

Suakin later became a hub for Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca and played a significant role in the Red Sea’s slave trade.

It also became part of the Ottoman Empire, though it lost its prominence as a port once Port Sudan was developed further north at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Much of Suakin is in decay but it still contains fine examples of houses and mosques, the UN’s cultural organisation, Unesco, says.

Professor Joanne Clarke from the UK’s University of East Anglia is currently working on research to quantify the speed at which the loss is being caused by the rise in the sea level and coastal erosion.

“What we do know is that the Red Sea coast will be impacted in the coming decades, which means what currently survives will be lost [without intervention],” she says.

The Old Town in Lamu is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, according to Unesco.

Unlike other towns and villages along the East African coast, many of which have been abandoned, Lamu has been continuously inhabited for more than 700 years.

It has also become a significant centre for the study of Islamic and Swahili cultures, the UN adds.

However, Lamu has been “severely impacted by shoreline retreat”, meaning it has lost the natural protection once offered by sand and vegetation.

This is partly about the change in sea levels but Prof Clarke also blames the construction of the huge Lamu port to the north of the Old Town, “which is destroying the mangrove forests that protect the island from flooding”.

“So a lot of what we would call natural heritage is a protection for cultural heritage. And as we destroy the natural heritage, we also leave cultural heritage sites exposed.”

The Comoros, a volcanic archipelago off the East African coast, has several well-preserved sites, including a medina and a palace dating back hundreds of years

But it is one of the places “most threatened” by sea level rise in Africa, Prof Clarke says.

In a plausible scenario of moderate-to-high global carbon emissions, “significant parts of the African coastal zone will be inundated by 2100”, according to the study.

“By 2050, Guinea, The Gambia, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Congo, Tunisia, Tanzania and the Comoros will all be at significant threat of coastal erosion and sea-level rise.”

The coast of Ghana is dotted with fortified trading posts, founded between 1482 and 1786, that stretch 500km (310 miles) along the coast.

The castles and forts were built and occupied at different times by traders from Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany and the UK.

That infrastructure played a role in the gold trade and, later, in the rise and fall of the slave trade between Africa and the Americas.

But the forts are located in areas that are highly vulnerable to the impact of storm surges and the rise in the sea level.

Prof Clarke says some examples of that architecture, such as Fort Prinzenstein in Keta, eastern Ghana, are being “eroded into the sea”.

Comparing current images of the fort with ones shot 50 years ago, it is possible to see the way that the structure has crumbled.

Climate change can increase humidity in relatively arid areas, and create the conditions for the proliferation of fungi and microbial life on rocks.

That is what is happening at sites such as Twyfelfontein in Namibia’s Kunene region, which has one of the largest concentrations of rock art in Africa.

Unesco describes it an “extensive and high-quality record of ritual practices relating to hunter-gatherer communities in this part of southern Africa over at least 2,000 years”.

But these could be lost.

The 2,000 or so mud houses of Djenné form some of the most iconic images of Mali. Inhabited since 250 BC, Djenné was a market town and an important link in the trans-Saharan gold trade.

In the 15th and 16th Centuries, it was one of the centres for the propagation of Islam across West Africa.

But climate change has affected the availability of high-quality mud used by the original residents for those constructions.

Local people, who have also seen their income drop due to crop failures, have to rely on cheaper materials which is “radically changing the town’s appearance”, the study says.

Prof Clarke says that “climate change has the ability to be a threat multiplier. It has indirect impacts which are arguably more serious than the direct impact”.

Some countries are better placed to deal with the impact of climate change on their cultural heritage.

Egypt, for example, sits on a low-lying region at “severe risk of flooding in the coming decades” yet is well-equipped to deal with some of the challenges.

There are places like the self-declared republic of Somaliland which has some ancient cave drawings but needs more help in protecting them.

Archaeologically, some of the “most unbelievably wonderful sites” exist there, Prof Clarke says.

Her research aims to shed light on those sites, which are little known to the rest of the world, and she fears “will disappear and no-one will know”.

Much-awaited Pan-African Heritage World Museum in Ghana launched

This article was first published by Ghana Web https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Much-awaited-Pan-African-Heritage-World-Museum-in-Ghana-launched-1066219

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo has inaugurated one of the most important projects of cultural and historical significance of our time — the Pan-African Heritage World Museum.

A brainchild of Kojo Yankah, the founder of the African University College of Communications in Ghana, the museum, to be completed in 2022, was launched in virtual space on Monday in the presence of global leaders and notable personalities.

It will be a center of pilgrimage for people of African descent to unlearn and relearn the history, culture and civilization of Africa from the creation of mankind till today.

Speaking during the launch, President Akufo-Addo, who was made the first patron of the museum, reiterated his administration’s unfettered support to Pan-African heritage and innovation — one of the key pillars of his Beyond The Return Initiative.

“The Pan-African Heritage World Museum project is certainly an innovative Pan-African project and that is why my government has decided to support it,” he said. “The time has come for all of us to take our heritage seriously. No one needs to tell us that we have a rich history made up of remarkable achievements in the arts, sciences and technology.

“We have so much to learn from our ancient kingdoms and indigenous knowledge and have stood the test of time and are driving our development in several ways,” the president said.

Highlighting the ties between Africans and Africans in the diaspora and the benefits of such engagements, the president encouraged all and sundry to support the Museum initiative.

The Museum project, to be managed by an international NGO, backed by a council of eminent scholars, will be funded through donations and grants. The Museum space will include a Garden of Sculptures of African leaders in sports, entertainment, politics, science and culture, as well as a Herbal-Plant Farm, a Palace of African Kingdoms and accommodation.

Pan-Africanist Yankah, who is behind the project, expressed worry that though there are published works by many scholars that uncover the hidden history and ideology of Africa, the very Africans who are supposed to consume these works cannot even find them for “various reasons.”

“Today, we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors to dedicate the Pan-African Heritage World Museum to the youth of the world,” said the former politician, writer and communications consultant.

“Our own story must be told, curated, preserved, and used as teaching materials to lift up their spirits; to raise their level of self-confidence; inspire them to aim for social equality and justice and to make them what we desire for all humanity as equal citizens of the world and to live in peace.”

Monday’s virtual launch was organized by Pan-African media company Face2Face Africa, a partner of the project. Other speakers included eminent African traditional leaders, some of the major scholars on the Academic Council, and coordinators from across the world, including an ambassador of the project, Ghanaian artiste Sarkodie, who was proud to be a part of the project.

The vision for the Museum, including plans to raise $30 million to complete the project, was also unveiled at the launch, with calls on all to support the project.

The Smithsonian and the V&A Abandon a Highly Anticipated Plan to Jointly Curate a Gallery in London

This article was first published by artnet news https://news.artnet.com/art-world/smithsonian-victoria-albert-gallery-canceled-1909437

The Smithsonian Institution and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London are abandoning plans to jointly curate a gallery in the planned V&A East museum, slated to open in East London in 2023.

The proposed gallery was expected to draw from both institutions’ permanent collections to explore the impact of human life on the natural world. The museums have now cancelled the long-held plans, citing their “evolving strategic priorities” as well as the public-health context.

In a joint statement, the American and British museums say they are re-focusing their work together to provide paid internships to young people as part of an existing program that seeks to promote diversity in the arts. The STEP program will be open to young East Londoners and DC residents from diverse backgrounds, who are hoping to gain experience in the creative industries.

“We know that the creative workforce in the UK and the US does not reflect our societies and this program is needed now more than ever,” the institutions say in the statement.

Successful applicants will be able to travel to London or Washington, DC, for placements in the institutions. The program is also supported by the Foundation for Future London, a nonprofit organization linked to the East Bank cultural hub that is being built in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, of which the V&A East will be a part.

Cancelling the joint gallery space is the second major change of plans for the Smithsonian, which had originally expected to open its own space on the site. It would have been the Smithsonian’s first permanent gallery space outside of the US. The plans for the gallery were first announced in 2018, and are the latest to be cancelled due to the worsening financial situation. The Smithsonian’s director Lonnie Bunch has said that the institution has lost millions of dollars in revenue since the beginning of the shutdown.

‘The Local Audience Is the Central Audience’: As Tourism Tanks Across the US, Museums Pivot to the Visitors in Their Own Backyards

This article was first published in artnet news https://news.artnet.com/art-world/museums-without-tourists-1908327

Before the shutdown hit New York City museums in March, 70 percent of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s visitors traveled to it from other cities and countries. Now, since the museum’s August 29 reopening, that number has dwindled to just 20 percent, leading the Met, and institutions across the globe, to grapple for the first time with what it means to run a museum without tourists.

As social distancing shrinks visitor capacities, ticket sales are down and museums are feeling the financial hit. They are also having to retool programming for their newly local audiences.

Before the shutdown, the Met welcomed anywhere from 15,000 visitors to 25,000 (on a peak summer day). Now, capacity is 14,000, and the Met is currently using its timed ticketing system to generate audiences of about 5,000 visitors per day.

With loans and traveling shows curtailed, the museum will be relying heavily on its own collection to create exhibitions, Met director Max Hollein said. Overall, programming will be sharply reduced for the next 17 to 24 months, prompting the museum to explore “new juxtapositions and new ways of contextualizing objects” in its collection, said Hollein.

The museum’s current 150th anniversary exhibition, “Making the Met 1870-2020,” was already in the works long before the current crisis, but it’s nonetheless a good example of the kind of show that can be done from drawing on the museum’s own resources.

“We also became more local in the lockdown,” Hollein said. “We’re focusing on what we have to energize and galvanize us in that direction.” To that end, the museum is adding a modern spin to its “period rooms” display that represents a “local” New York story. Details about the new installation will be revealed in coming months, but, for now, “It’s time we start to imagine a period room not of the past but of today that can reflect our current time and challenge contemporary issues,” Hollein said.

Hollein expects that it could be two to three years before tourism approaches its pre-pandemic levels. “The local audience is really the central audience,” he said. “It’s an audience that has grown up with the institution and comes to you again and again. They have a much closer connection because they enjoy and notice constant changes within the institution. Their level of expectation is higher,” than, for example, a tourist who comes once every few years.

How Exhibitions Are Changing

It appears the Met has plenty of company on this path. In June, Vastari, a digital platform that helps arts and cultural institutions source individual objects or entire exhibitions from peer institutions and private collectors, conducted a multiple-choice survey with its members about programming strategy through the end of 2021.

The majority of the 50 respondents were art museums, and 26 of them were based in the US. From this cohort, 52 percent replied that they would focus on organizing shows with their own permanent collections. Another 38 percent said budget restrictions would compel them to book only small exhibitions. Among the museums who responded “other” to the question, the most frequent explanation written in was an intent to focus on their local audiences.

Vastari CEO Bernadine Bröcker Wieder told Artnet News that activity on the platform in the months since the survey has reinforced its findings. Although a few major institutions are planning to move ahead with blockbuster shows under the belief that they can still tempt sufficiently large—yet still socially distant—crowds from a newly local pool of potential visitors, others are pivoting to “more modular” programming: smaller, nimbler shows devised to directly engage the communities in their immediate surroundings.

Rather than hire whole touring exhibitions on Vastari, many institutions are now interested in paying for “just a few objects from another museum that they can build a marketing campaign around,” says Bröcker Wieder. “They still get the draw of a big touring show without the cost of a big touring show.”

Vastari is even in the midst of changing its policies and capabilities in response. Prior to the shutdown, the platform only allowed member institutions to offer complete exhibitions to other member institutions, while private collectors could offer individual objects for show. But it is now working to give museums the same flexibility to hire out as little as a single work to their peers—a practical acknowledgment of the new normal’s shifting priorities.

“It’s not tourism versus local, in many cases it’s audience versus curatorial interest,” said Adrian Ellis, founder of AEA Consulting, which tracks spending and strategy in the cultural industries. The financial pressure of the past few months “will lead to a more considered approach to programming generally, driven more on balance by considerations of audience than curatorial agendas.”

Striking that balance is not exactly a new phenomenon, but Ellis predicts it will likely “tip toward market and toward cost consciousness.” As a result, small exhibitions that draw more heavily on permanent collections and less on borrowed objects may become more frequent.  “There will also of course be exhibitions exploring the current ‘moment’—and our national preoccupations with race and social justice will clearly affect thinking about exhibitions. There will be continuing efforts to broaden audience demographics,” he says.

Of course the situation is different for each institution. The Whitney Museum, like the Met, says the overwhelming majority of visitors are New Yorkers. The museum reopened with a month of pay-what-you-wish admission to welcome back New Yorkers while engaging and supporting the local community. Notably, it is one of the few museums that has not yet had a major disruption in programming. It was able to keep exhibitions on view that were installed before the shutdown, including “Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945,” “Cauleen Smith: Mutualities,” and “Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist,” as well as its two collection installations which were on view prior to the museum’s closure.

“We kept these shows installed for the duration of the closure so that they would be on view to welcome visitors back following the reopening,” said a museum representative, adding that previously planned exhibitions remain on the schedule as well. “Our programming has not been impacted by the shift in visitor composition.”

A Tale of (More Than) Two Cities

Another emergent trend in the museum sector’s new normal is geographic disparity. The nation’s disjointed public-health response to the coronavirus has left the most popular institutions on the East Coast in vastly friendlier scenarios than their counterparts on the West Coast.

When the Guggenheim Museum reopens on October 3 with new exhibitions of Jackson Pollock’s famed Mural (1943) and related sculptures, all of New York’s flagship arts institutions will once again be operational. Caveats apply, of course. According to a Guggenheim spokesperson, the museum will only accommodate a quarter of its normal capacity, with timed tickets and observance of other safety measures required. The Guggenheim also anticipates a 25 percent year-over-year decline in overall attendance in 2020, meaning the institution would host only about 900,000 total visitors by year’s end versus roughly 1.2 million in 2019.

The composition of its audience will also change substantially. Annual visitorship at the museum typically breaks down as roughly half international and half domestic, with nearly 40 percent of US visitors (meaning about 20 percent of all visitors) being New Yorkers. Although the museum does not have a projection for how much more of its overall attendance locals will comprise, it is safe to say that this year will deviate from the usual demographic trend. The Guggenheim is adjusting its communications strategy accordingly by featuring content “aimed towards New York audiences” on its social-media and digital platforms, the spokesperson said.

This approach harmonizes with the one already in practice at the Art Institute of Chicago. Since reopening on July 30, three-quarters of visitors to the encyclopedic museum have been local residents, according to a representative. Normally, this constituency makes up only about 50 percent of attendees. The Art Institute has responded by eliminating advertising targeted to tourists “for the time being,” as well as shifting the emphasis further toward the “Chicago” element of the campaigns for its current exhibition “Monet and Chicago.” The show’s layout was also modified during the shutdown to optimize traffic flow through the galleries for a socially distanced world.

While the wildly popular art museums above undoubtedly wish their situations were better, their peer institutions in the west would likely love to have the same problems. The Getty Center and the Getty Villa will not welcome visitors until January 2021, according to a spokesperson. A representative for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose website simply designates the campus as “temporarily closed” amid the pandemic and its controversial architectural overhaul, declined to comment for this story. Multiple email inquiries to the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles went unanswered; also “temporarily closed,” the institution is scheduled to debut two new major exhibitions in October, but as of publication time, opening dates had yet to be announced.

Searching for a New Normal

To the extent that any institution can operate as it did pre-shutdown, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has been remarkably consistent. It reopened to the public a full three months ahead of most New York institutions, on May 23. The date set by museum leaders followed three weeks after that set by the state’s governor for museums to reopen.

Social distancing protocols are in place, including mask requirements, and timed ticket entries, and the museum is currently operating below 25 percent capacity, which is 900 visitors across the 14-acre main campus. A representative said the museum does not expect programming to be impacted as “90 percent of our audience has been and continues to be from the greater Houston area.”

One pandemic-related delay is the opening of its new Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, now set for November 21, about three weeks delayed. The Kinder Building will present works from the museum’s international collections of modern and contemporary art, opening with the first comprehensive installation drawn from the collections of Latin American and Latino art.

Still the Houston museum’s experience remains an outlier at this stage. As the conditions on the ground continue to evolve in the months ahead, the only certainty is that arts institutions will need to keep their creative problem-solving skills sharp. The crisis and its effect on the museum-going public have already forced several of the US’s best-attended public collections to reappraise everything from programming, to communications, to operations. And as Bröcker Wieder of Vastari sees it, in some cases this soul-searching was overdue.

“I grew up in a country with a lot of hurricanes,” she says. “After a hurricane, everything is chopped down. Maybe this is time for a spring cleaning in museums.”

How can soft power play a deciding role in the UK’s international smart power strategy?

This article was first published by the British Council https://www.britishcouncil.org/research-policy-insight/insight-articles/integrated-review-uk-soft-power

As the UK Government’s Integrated Review nears its conclusion, Insight explores how soft power can play a deciding role in the UK’s international smart power strategy.

A state’s international credibility and capacity to effect change depends as much on diplomacy and the social and human capital of international networks as it does on its gross domestic product (GDP), or military might.

The ‘smart power’ resulting from the interaction between these elements should be greater than the sum of the parts.

Whether it’s persuading other countries to take multilateral action in a humanitarian crisis, agreeing to collective targets for reducing carbon emissions, signing a trade deal or deterring rivals from hostile acts, soft power is strategically integral to success.

The UK’s international capability depends on being perceived as a force for good in the world – a credible, reliable and generous partner focused on the common good rather than narrow self-interest.

To its credit the UK Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (Integrated Review) takes a holistic approach.

It looks at all of the UK’s international capabilities with a view to developing a full spectrum strategy to deliver the Prime Minister’s vision for Global Britain. The British Council’s formal response to the Integrated Review can be read here .

But grand visions and strategies can only be realised when backed by investment. This is why the outcome of the UK Government’s Spending Review, which is being delivered alongside the Integrated Review, will be critical.

Together these two reviews represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a renewed commitment to the UK’s international capabilities. Yet herein lies the challenge – the economic impact of COVID-19 means that they are taking place at an extremely difficult time for Her Majesty’s Treasury.

What then for Global Britain? How can the UK realise its vision of a leading power both worthy and capable of holding on to its seat at the top table, when facing a contraction of the national economy and unprecedented levels of peacetime debt?

Currently the UK spends about 2.75 per cent of GDP on ‘international engagement’ – including the entire defence, intelligence, diplomacy and the 0.7 per cent for aid budgets.

Raising this to 3 per cent, as previously argued by the British Foreign Policy Group, would significantly increase resourcing for international engagement, especially if there was a significant uplift in funding for the diplomatic network, the BBC World Service and British Council – which collectively account for less than 0.1 per cent of GDP.

History tells us that a tight spending round is more likely to produce cuts than increases in international engagement budgets. But investment in the UK’s soft power assets and infrastructure can offer a path out of the economic doldrums of COVID-19.

Diplomacy and soft power are vital to the UK’s economic success. Negotiating an international trade deal or agreeing collective action in fora like the G7 or World Trade Organisation depends on deft diplomacy and the appeal of the UK’s offer.

Trust and attractiveness increase interest in engaging with the UK through business and trade, drive up foreign direct investment (FDI) and increase inward flows of international students.

The economic value of trust is evidence based. A one-standard-deviation increase in an importer’s trust toward an exporter raises exports by 10 per cent and the level of FDI by 27 per cent.

Soft power has multiple positive impacts on the UK’s prosperity. International students for example not only make a vital contribution to local economies across the country but are also core to the success of the UK’s research sector, especially in areas key to UK productivity like the life sciences, engineering and artificial intelligence.

Global Britain isn’t optional. Investment can’t be postponed to sunnier times. International engagement is vital to increasing FDI, improving productivity and supercharging Research and Development.

The UK’s reputational resilience and leading position in soft power are vital to the UK’s international influence as it charts a new course in its foreign policy against a backdrop of rapid and major change in the international order.

Joseph S. Nye recently highlighted  the increasing importance of social and human capital in international relations:

In this new world, networks and connectedness become an important source of power and security. In a world of growing complexity, the most connected states are the most powerful.

In an increasingly complex, contested, multi-polar world, the UK will be reliant on alliances and networks to advance its prosperity and security and address global challenges.

Given its reputation as an open and tolerant society that acts as a global force for good, the UK currently enjoys strong levels  of trust and attractiveness internationally.

This creates an opportunity for the UK to build on its international relationships and more actively champion the values it is seen as representing, whether through encouraging rules-based international systems in multilateral institutions or through supporting collective action on issues such as climate change, COVID-19, women’s rights and education, and technology governance.

However, the gap between soft power leaders is narrowing. France, Germany, Russia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and China have been investing more in soft power as a proportion of GDP than the UK and place soft power prominently in their international strategies.

In 2018/19 the German state invested £550 million in its principal soft power agencies, three times that of the UK (£184 million). France is also now spending well over double what the UK government invests, in the same year state funding for comparable soft power bodies reached £478 million.

Without an increase in investment the UK’s comparative advantage in soft power will be eroded and could lose ground in attractiveness and trust.

Complacency in the face of increasing global competition and innovation in the soft power space will cost the UK international influence.

The UK rightly ringfences significant funds for Official Development Assistance (ODA). However, the Royal United Services Institute has estimated  that following the merger of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development around 96 per cent of the FCDO budget is now ODA.

This is likely to have significant ramifications for UK diplomacy and soft power. For example, perceptions of the UK in Europe have declined sharply  in the last two years, but the scope to reverse this downward trend through public diplomacy and cultural relations is limited by restrictions on where and how the FCDO budget can be deployed.

If the UK is to maintain its leading position it will need to ensure that sufficient funds can be directed to activities whose primary purpose is building connections, trust and understanding in all the places of strategic importance regardless of their ODA status.

The Integrated Review provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recalibrate the UK’s international capabilities and develop a smart power strategic approach that will be fit for the twenty-first century.

The Spending Review needs to align funding with that strategy and deliver a significant investment in the infrastructure of international engagement, in defence, intelligence, diplomacy and soft power.

Investment is necessary in each and every area that makes up the UK’s international capability. The potential future returns on that investment in terms of the UK’s place in the world, prosperity and international influence are what make the outcome of the Integrated Review and Spending Review so crucial.

Global Britain isn’t optional  –  in reality it’s the only option.

Alistair MacDonald, Senior Policy Advisor, Soft Power, British Council and Alison Baily, Senior Policy Adviser, Security and Stability, British Council

WIPO Launches Virtual Exhibition on Artificial Intelligence and Intellectual Property

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) today launched “WIPO: AI and IP, A Virtual Experience,” an immersive online exhibition using the latest 360 degree scanning technology to foster a more-comprehensive understanding of the relationship between IP policy and AI and the questions facing policymakers.

The exhibition is the first of its kind at WIPO and offers visitors an interactive opportunity to discover this radical new technology, while exploring some of the many ways AI promises to transform culture and industry.

“This exhibition is part of a larger process of WIPO’s engagement with AI, where we are having a conversation among many stakeholders to explore and develop the questions arising from the impact of AI on IP policy,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. “We hope users find the exhibition both educational and entertaining.”

The exhibition was unveiled during the Sept. 16-18 WIPO Conference on the Global Digital Content Market, which explored the latest worldwide developments in the creative industries sector brought about by digital technologies such as AI.

The exhibition is hosted virtually inside WIPO’s premises, including the WIPO library that houses some of the world’s earliest historical IP publications, which are presented in 360-degree footage that serves as the background for the AI displays.

The exhibition focuses on examples of the use of AI in art, music, technology and entertainment, and asks a number of questions that allow the visitor to relate to underlying issues for the existing IP systems. Exhibits include art created by humanoid robotic artist Ai-Da, a song that won an international AI Song Contest and a game that helps a neural network recognize doodles.

WIPO will also hold a series of special events that will explore some of the issues in greater detail and provide a live interaction with some of the exhibits.

The exhibition will be open for viewing from September 18, 2020 until December 18, 2020.

For more information visit https://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2020/article_0019.html

DCMS Brexit Transition Period Newsletter 12 Oct 2020

Below is a link to download the latest PDF Brexit Transition Period Newsletter from DCMS for the museums and galleries sector, containing links to government information and advice, including:

  • the Border Operating System version 2, including:
  • information on moving cultural objects
  • information on CITES
  • information on ATA carnets


#museumpassion on 15 October 2020

This article was first published by NMDC https://www.nationalmuseums.org.uk/museum-passion/

The BBC – in partnership with the National Museum Directors’ Council, the Museums Association and Art Fund – is calling for for museums across the UK to participate in an event called #MuseumPassion as part of a season highlighting the work of museums.

#MuseumPassion will take place on the 15th of October, and will consist of a whole day of promoted content on social media, TV and radio focusing on the UK’s museums, and will be similar to the highly successful #MuseumFromHome event run by the BBC in April as part of its Culture in Quarantine season. The #MuseumFromHome event was the top trending hashtag on Twitter with 24,000 tweets using the hashtag across the day.

Other events taking place during the week will include coverage of the Art Fund Museum of the Year award, four dedicated TV programmes on museums around the UK, and online promotion of a new series of Curator Battles to be run by York Museum.

How to get involved

We’re interested in stories or objects that make people passionate about museums and their collections. The theme of #MuseumPassion is intentionally broad – you could share content about specific items in your collection, the history of your institution, or how your museum is engaging with people on important contemporary issues such as Climate Change, Covid-19 or Black Lives Mattter.

Just use the hashtag #MuseumPassion when posting on your regular social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.) from 1000-1700 on 15 October for the opportunity to have your content shared with a global audience. The BBC will host and highlight social media content throughout the day from museums, galleries and archives via the BBC Arts Website and across other BBC programmes and accounts, and it will also be promoted by other #MuseumPassion partners.

We’re looking for live streams, films, memes, blogs, pictures or simply a great story.

You can download the #MuseumPassion logo for use with your content here.

Please ensure that you are following all Covid-19 safety guidance and legislation when producing content for the day.