Jaakko Uoti: How can internationalisation in the cultural field be researched?
17 October 2016

Photo: Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux

Internationalisation in the cultural field has many names. Different contexts make use of different terms such as exchange, export, networking and internationalisation. This blog post considers some of the relatively new research and projects dealing with work in the cultural sector involving internationalisation. There are many ways of looking at internationalisation. Each arts sector has its own approach. Yet, is it possible to identify shared factors among different art forms?


New developments in the contemporary art and music scene

At the beginning of 2016, Frame Contemporary Art Finland published a report (Viennistä vuoropuheluun, vaikutteista verkostoihin) on cultural policy and the international landscape of Finnish contemporary art with the Foundation for Cultural Policy Research Cupore. The research was conducted through a survey sent to various actors in the field and supplemented by a literature review and testimonials. The report draws attention to the fact that internationalisation in itself, without even mentioning export, is an outdated concept in contemporary art: it is essentially an international field. Still, it is for this very reason that international work opportunities are important to artists who in turn require support in order to travel abroad.

The contemporary art field has a wide network of operation and contacts. The sector’s ‘ecosystem’ surpasses national borders so that government-driven cultural export programmes are at times poorly aligned with the collaborative practice characteristic of this widely networked field. This relates to funding structures, response time as well as the discourse of those operating in the sector. While international opportunities are important to artists, they do not expect to gain significant income by working abroad. Although many artists consider having an international reach to be valuable, international projects are seen more as a risk than an opportunity to gain income. This is another reason to improve the strategies of decision-makers.

So, how can one measure internationalisation?  The exchange of exhibitions resonated strongly among respondents to the survey. 60% of organisations and 45% of individual respondents found the development of the visibility of Finnish contemporary art to be a significant indicator of effectiveness. Qualitative research methods, however, were widely favoured over quantitative ones.  Many expressed criticism towards the indicators used, and some respondents were put off by the loaded character of concepts such as visibility and internationalisation.

Whatever the case may be, it is challenging to keep track of developments when there are shortcomings in the statistics. Founded in 2012, Frame acts an information centre for the visual arts which includes the development of relevant research about the sector. This work is now really taking off. Frame has established a working group that is in the early stages of creating a model for developing statistics for the visual arts. As it stands, there is comparatively less information available about the visual arts than other sectors. Besides producing its own research, Frame operates as an information centre by collating existing research. There are, nonetheless, still a number of ‘black holes’ in the contemporary arts scene, for example research into the workings of galleries. Frame aims to address these gaps in the future.

Earlier and more regular statistics on cultural export and research on the music field’s economy have been produced by Music Finland, which for the first time this year, completed a comprehensive research report as a barometer for the music industry. The export of Finnish pop music has also been studied in a separate research report.


In the spring of 2016, Music Finland surveyed the experiences of representatives of the music sector in terms of the current status of the field and its future. Previous research by Music Finland produced statistical information related to monetary transactions in the music industry, whereas the barometer mapped professionals’ views of the sector. Besides internationalisation, the subject matter of these studies includes the structural changes within the music sector, its economy as well as changes in the media environment and new technologies, and the impact of these factors on the field.

Companies in the music industry demonstrated more faith in the growth of cultural export than other respondents and identified the greatest potential for export, both in terms of the export of creative products as well as Finnish producers and composers working for artists and record companies abroad. A greater investment in management activities and marketing would also speed up the growth of music export. On the whole, the greatest challenges in the industry are linked to the economic situation as well as changes in consumption. Responses also articulated structural shifts: the fall in record sales and new compensation practices due to the use of streaming services are causes for concern when it comes to artists’ income. Perhaps for this reason, live music, synchronisation rights and app solutions were highlighted as areas with growth potential. Besides this, artists and in particular those representing marginal genres showed concern about changes to public funding schemes.


Research on the performing arts and literature also offers statistics on international projects

Theatre Info Finland (TINFO) produces the yearly Theatre Statistics, which includes Finnish theatre abroad and visiting theatre in Finland. The most recent Theatre Statistics also highlights challenges to internationalisation.  The international mobility of theatre performances is closely connected to two characteristics of theatre: space and language. Theatre performances that rely on spoken language are not as easy to transport internationally as dance or circus performances. Finnish contemporary circus, in particular, is an easily transportable genre that does not depend on language, and has consequently been positioned as the most internationally mobile performing art form for several years now.

Several spoken theatre groups still enjoy a solid international network and their works are in demand. In Finland, however, there is clearly a lack of support for the promotion of international mobility in the performing arts. A more efficient and faster-acting structure for travel support would, for instance, assist in responding to festival invitations. An art form that relies on language also requires resources such as high-quality translations.

In 2014, TINFO updated its mobility programme (Teatteri liikkuu ja liikuttaa) with the aim to create resources to ensure international mobility in the sector. The theatre sector is gaining international traction through residencies and festivals. In addition, internationalisation is increasingly becoming part of the creative process: festivals act as meeting points where new works are created and existing works are further developed. Increasingly, performance-makers are producing internationally touring works that are nonetheless firmly rooted in time and place while being shaped around the world.


With regard to literature, internationalisation is often measured by considering the sales of publishing rights.  Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI) compiles statistics of publishing rights’ sales, but also considers their export value. Their report entitled The Value of Finnish Literary Exports, 2011-2015 investigates and develops models for measuring the value of Finnish literary exports.  The most recent section of the report was published in the autumn of 2015. A final report comparing the outcomes of the entire research period will be published this autumn.

Besides figures, the first report covering 2011-2012 dealt with shifts in the literary export business and included testimonies of leaders in the literary field, authors, the most noteworthy publishing houses as well as agencies in Finland and Sweden. The report set out to itemise the market value of literary export activities. In addition, the included testimonials uncovered opinions about the shifts that are taking place within the sector.

Although the overview of the entire research project is not yet available, one can refer to the projections set out in the 2014 report. For a number of years now, literary export has been experiencing a shift. This is due to factors such as an increase in publishers’ sales, the Frankfurt Book Fair’s yearlong focus on a particular country, the fine-tuned activities of agencies, as well as the seemingly contrasting concern of developing new audiences in the face of a drop in domestic markets. Some of the issues that appear are the relationship between Finnish agencies and publishing houses as well as a sense of publishers’ inefficiency vis à vis their authors: increasingly, a work’s rights may be sold to Finland while a foreign agency deals with its export. The concern here is not so much the quality of the work, but rather a desire for more careful coordination among agencies, publishing houses and those dealing with export, as well as the upgrading of resources.


In conclusion: Towards sharing best practice guidelines

By comparing research on the factors affecting internationalisation in different sectors, one notices differences between practices and guidelines. The biggest concerns in the cultural field, however, are often shared across sectors. These include: the decline in public resources, the prominence of new technologies particularly in the fields of music and literature, and changes in trade practices, all of which are revolutionising the consumption of culture.

Different guidelines for internationalisation are nonetheless connected to the nature of particular arts sectors and different artistic genres. For instance, the sale of contemporary art works is a small and not necessarily very noticeable part of internationalisation. In addition, the export of contemporary art is not looked at favourably compared to more defined and more easily marketable products.  Then again, one could consider how record or publishing rights sales might lead to internationalisation or ways for artists to reach new audiences. The best total picture is perhaps found by considering the balance of value and the sales of rights, performances and exhibitions on one hand, and the experiences of those involved in the sector on the other – researching one variable alone is not enough. Even though each sector is unique, it is still valuable, or at least interesting to evaluate the methods used to assign value: how is value measured and can methodologies be used across sectors? Especially with the current state of the cultural field, where arts sectors overlap and interdisciplinary projects are common place, it becomes increasingly meaningful to broaden our views with regard to research.

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Jaakko Uoti

Jaakko Uoti is working as a communications intern at the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux during the 2016 autumn season. Jaakko holds a Master of Social Sciences degree. Before joining the Institute, he worked at contemporary art organisations, in the field of communications services and as a writer.

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