Neil McGregor, former director of the British Museum, has described the original purpose of the British Museum as being "for all who found themselves in Britain who would need to know about the world if they were to flourish in it." (Source: The Guardian).
This international mindset, which reflects the UK's history as a global trading nation and its use of cultural diplomacy, pervades the UK's Arts & Culture scene which has sought out engagement with the world via partnerships and openness to ideas, stories, people and values from abroad.
One instance of this approach is the World Collections programme, which encourages exchange, training and other interactions between UK museums and overseas partners. Examples of such partnerships include link-ups between the National Museums of Scotland and the National Museums Malawi, the partnership of the Natural History Museum and the National University of Singapore and the collaboration between HMS Belfast, the historic warship, and St Petersburg (Source: World Collections report, published by National Museum Directors' Conference).
The Royal Opera House has also developed strong links with the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, the National Performing Arts Centre in Mumbai and the Royal Opera House Muscat, Oman, enabling it to offer tours, broadcasts, cinema screenings and training programmes throughout those regions.
The UK was ranked number two on the Soft Power Index in 2019, reflecting its strengths in culture, education and digital as well as business and Government.
The UK performing arts scene is an international taste-maker, and a byword for professionalism, artistic integrity and originality. Its performers - from stand-up comedy to opera - are world-renowned, and tour internationally, either via commercial arrangements or by support from the British Council and others.
Successes that originated in the UK before travelling the world abound. In musicals, they include Les Misérables, Billy Elliot and Mamma Mia!. In drama, they include Jerusalem, War Horse, One Man, Two Guvnors and Matilda the Musical. In comedy, Sasha Baron-Cohen, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Lee Evans and Eddie Izzard also have broad appeal both in the UK and internationally.
The UK's museum and galleries culture is world class. In the British Museum and Tate Modern, the UK has two of the top 10 most visited museums in the world. UK productions and exhibitions travel the world, with examples such as the David Bowie exhibition from the V&A appealing internationally. The number of overseas visitors to UK museums sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport rose by 1.4 per cent in 2017/18, and total visitors to museums outside London rose by 10 per cent.
The performing arts scene, as well as the museums and galleries sector, are supported by world-class training institutions with links to the industry and to each other.
For example, the UK has three of the world's top five universities for the performing arts according to the 2018 rankings.
Several leading training institutions are linked in a federated conservatoire that is unique in the world, covering music, dance, drama and circus skills. Attracting students from all over the globe, they produce not only the performers, directors and choreographers who provide the core of the UK’s creative offering, but also train the stage managers, technicians and project managers that enable their vision. A number of the UK's performing arts schools also validate international examinations and qualifications programmes.
The country's museums, such as the British Museum, Victoria and Albert and Imperial War Museum are also homes to internationally respected scholarship and curatorial craft.
Partnership is an ingrained part of the UK's Arts & Cultural set-up. Networks and umbrella organisations connect the UK performing arts. These include the Independent Theatre Council, the Theatrical Management Association, the Society of London Theatre, Dance UK and the Foundation for Community Dance.
UK performing arts practitioners have formed strong networks with international colleagues. Examples include Aerowaves, a British-led pan-European dance performance network, and Rural Retreats, conceived by DanceEast in Ipswich, a biennial forum for the artistic directors of the world’s leading ballet companies.
A number of UK-based artists from diverse backgrounds have or have had residencies working with the largest performing arts institutions. Examples include Jonzi D at Sadler’s Wells and Lemn Sissay at the South Bank Centre. Increasingly, artists are also linking up with scientists and technology companies.
Although the UK has strong cultural and creative public institutions, many cultural workers are also highly entrepreneurial, working for themselves or small companies. According to the Creative Blueprint survey, some 88 per cent of people in the performing arts sector, for instance, work in companies of five or fewer people - higher than the UK workforce average of 76 per cent. (Source: Creative Blueprint).
The UK has developed leading programmes in cultural entrepreneurship and leadership to train the next generation of business leaders in the Arts & Culture sector (see the Clore Leadership scheme).