Artists Moving in Europe: International Mobility and Cultural Policies | FABIEN BARTHELEMY – PACTE-CNRS

September 27, 2013

In 2011, a French report ordered by the ministry of culture (Deniau, 2011) about cultural exchanges pointed out that the term “desire for Europe” qualifies french artists’ international mobility. In accordance with this, since 2007, the European institutions have been promoting artistic mobility as a way to develop culture and the creative sector in Europe.This common desire illustrates an apparant harmony between the practice of international mobility on one hand and the aims of a policy which deals both with culture and mobility on the other.

The particularity of artists on the move is double.

Firstly, their mobility is cultural: this means that when creating or giving shows, artists carry a part of their local culture with them.

Next, their mobility is often linked with the institutions. Indeed, artists international projects are often developed in the frame of public funding or cooperation programs.

These two aspects lead me to assume that, paradoxically, artists mobility is very linked to territories both in the institutionnal sense (as the spatial frame of policies) as well as in the sense of being a spatial set of material and symbolic resources.

But for artists, this relationship with territories takes place in a double context.

Firstly, that of globalization. Artists, like other kinds of migrants, are part of the worldwide migration flow. As Tim Cresswell has shown, mobility, as “a fundamental geographical facet of existence”, “is everywhere” (Cresswell, 2006, p. 1), especially for artists. And these flows of mobility have consequences on territories. The French geographer Denis Retaillé wrote: “Breaking down the one universal border into a multiple of boundaries rids us of the fiction of unity, and makes the territory’s outlines confused” (Retaillé, 2009, p. 101).

The second context is the multiplication of cultural policies in Europe. This statement, made by the french politist Guy Saez (Saez & Saez, 2012), shows how each region tends to develop its own cultural policy especially at the metropolitan level. This phenomenon can be explained by the significance regions give to the role of the creative class, to use the term of Richard Florida or Charles Landry. So, for a decade, cities, regions and states have been launching their own schemes to support artists’ mobility.

So, in this context, if like Claude Raffestin, we consider the territory as “the prison that men give to themselves” (Raffestin, 1980, p. 129), artists tend to break free by overcoming the borders to export their work or to look for new sources of inspiration. However, this international mobility remains linked to territories and their cultural policies. This is why, it seems to be important to ask the question about the role of artists’ international mobility concerning borders and national cultural specificities. In other words, does artists’ international mobility tend to reduce the role of borders or does it tend to strengthen the cultural weight of each territory?

The dynamics of artistic mobility taken into account by cultural policies

Artists have been moving for centuries. Indeed, in Europe, mobility has been developed as a tradition, first for craftsmen and then for artists. The aim of these journeys was to go and learn the skills where they were developped: in Italy for the Renaissance painters or in Great Britain and in Germany for the Nineteenth century’s poets. So, European artists have integrated this travelling legacy into their habits and today, for plenty of artists, travel abroad is now considered as a model (Amilhat-Szary et alii, 2010, p. 15; Chaudoir, 2005, p. 10).

For many artists, mobility is considered as a major part of the job and as a necessary practice. For example, the french musician Timothé Reignier alias Rover said in an interview[1]: “Maybe moving about or roaming is a vital need. I don’t want to lose the pace of the tour, which also suits me, being constantly on the move, having to adapt to the lack of landmarks.”

As well as a learning function, travel is used to develop inspiration in order to create. As another french musician, Renaud Brustlein alias H Burns, said[2] : “I composed and designed Off the map knowing that I would be recording it in Chicago. It was the idea of the trip that nourished the record, regarding the sound, the arrangements, and also the theme, with the cartographic metaphor, the journey, as a main thread.”

Mobility is not only important for performing artists but also for visual artists. The next artist’s quote, from Eric Valette about his trip to Cyprus[3], highlights the fact that mobility is not only individual roaming but it also builds collective structures: “Works of art, exhibitions, books, a network, were born from this journey. Today, many artists travel all over the planet searching for somewhere, a place, a region, a piece of reality upon which they can set their eyes and create art.”

Beyond narratives about how vertuous international mobility is, artists do actually move across borders. Few quantitative studies exist to prove this but a recent report made by the French National Office for Artistic Development (Deniau, 2011) has shown that, between 2006 and 2010, more than 60% of french companies had given shows abroad. The same study estimates that, each year, more than three hundred shows had been produced abroad. These statistics concerns only the performance and diffusion phase but they illustrate what the french sociologist Philippe Chaudoir calls “the necessary international insertion” of artists (Chaudoir, 2005, p. 11).

However, moving across borders is not always easy for artists in Europe even if the Lisbon Treaty affirms the freedom of movement as the right of every European Union citizen to live and work in another European Union country. Many impediments exist for artists moving across Europe, this being highlighted by a few reports ordered by the European Commission (ERICarts Institute, 2006, 2008; Working group of EU member states’ experts on mobility support programmes, 2012). Apart from funding, language or culture issues, these impediments depend on social security protection, on taxation, on visas and on work permits or on copyrights (Roé, 2009). So in order to encourage artists international mobility, real cultural policies focusing on supporting mobility have been developed by territories.

For many centuries, cultural policies have existed at a national level and are managed by governments, usually by the Ministry of Culture or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and sometimes both (Wiesand, 2007). Since the 80’s and the 90’s, both European actors (especially the European commission) and regional actors have become cultural policy makers. So, even if cultural policies based on exchanges between cities have existed for many decades, the metropolitan actors seem to have become more and more important (Saez & Saez, 2012).

From the European level to the local one, these different cultural policies supporting mobility effectively exist through schemes and programmes towards artists. These schemes are produced by public policy makers but also by agencies, associations and foundations at all levels in Europe. They provide grants and information for artists to enhance their capability to organize residencies or tours abroad.

Transborder mobility is an important practice both for artists and territories, in the frame of their cultural policies. To continue to explore the relationship that links moving artists and territories, it is important to pay attention to the motives of each cultural policy at each level in Europe. In other words, do the European Commission and the Région Rhône-Alpes, for example, support artistic mobility for the same reason?

Cultural Policies Supporting Mobility: Aims and Contradictions

The analysis of the aims of the main kinds of cultural operators in Europe by studying both reports and websites, shows that the aims are different depending on the scale of observation. All of the cultural operators supporting artistic transborder mobility declare doing this to enhance the cultural sector and to develop artistic activities. But a gap exists between those whose aim is cooperation and exchange and those whose aim is cultural diplomacy and influence.

At the European level, first.

European institutions have been managing culture since the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and for them, culture is a good way to build a European identity.

Today, the European cultural policy is defined by the European Agenda for Culture and we can notice that, since 2007, the mobility of artists and cultural professionals has been emphasised. Indeed, we find this idea of mobility behind its first objective, which is: “the promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue”[4]. In the communication of the Agenda, it is declared that cultural policies must, I quote: “promote the mobility of artists and professionals in the cultural field and the circulation of all artistic expressions beyond national borders” (European Commission, 2007).

Why is artistic mobility so important to the development of culture in Europe? The answer can be found in two frameworks: the Culture Programme and the Work Plan for Culture (Working group of EU member states’ experts on mobility support programmes, 2012). They both put the stress on the major role of artistic mobility in the European integration process. Indeed, according to these two frameworks, artistic mobility encourages cultural diversity, balance and citizenship to build a common cultural area.

At the lower levels, then. For national, regional and local territories, these European objectives are not necessarily considered. The French politist Guy Saez points out that, in the context of globalization, states or regions tend to manage their cultural policies in a defensive way (Saez & Saez, 2012, p. 31‑32). Indeed, for small countries or for regions which have a strong culture, artists are sent abroad to promote their language, their dances, their cultural assets and to prove their cultural specificities. For instance, the ministry of culture of the Slovak Republic has established the programme “pro slovakia” to make Slovak culture more visible abroad by supporting Slovakian artists’ mobility. This kind of program can also be found in Belgium especially for Flemish artists to promote Flemish culture(Working group of EU member states’ experts on mobility support programmes, 2012).

For other states and regions and more and more cities, using cultural cooperation and artistic mobility is a way to develop a “soft power” in the field of cultural diplomacy (ERICarts Institute, 2008). In other words, artists are sent abroad to represent, to embody the creativity and dynamism of their state or their region. In France, the French Institute, is an agency whose role is to enhance French influence in the world, by using the cultural way. Another French example, the Région Rhone-Alpes, launched an artistic international mobility program in 2006 both to support artists and to represent this region abroad. Actually, the director of the cultural department explained to me the aims of this scheme in the following terms: “So, there are two lines, the first one being to support the work of art and the artist, the second one being to valorize the Region Rhones-Alpes, reveal the Region and its wealth abroad, there is that aspect too.”[5]

Both Charles Landry and Richard Florida have emphasized the importance of the concept of creativity especially for cities at the local level. Today, for local policy makers, a key issue is to insert their city into international networks and to get labels; and culture and artistic creativity are good ways to do that. A city like Cork, in the south of Ireland, soon understood this and has launched a program called the Cork City Council Travel and Mobility Awards whose aim is to insert Cork into international networks and promote Cork as an “international city” (Working group of EU member states’ experts on mobility support programmes, 2012).

States and regions whose cultural policies are used in a defensive way seem to be in harmony with the European aim of cultural diversity. But those whose cultural policy is used as a soft power for competitivness seem to be in contradiction with the European objective of cohesion and integration.

In this context of tensions between each territories’ objectives, how can cultural cooperation be possible?

Cultural operators and artists’ mobility: articulation, cooperation and partnerships

Cultural mobility policies are the results of political relationships and partnerships in Europe.

The first kind of relashionship that influences cultural mobility policies is a top-down relationship. In other words: key principles and good pratices circulate between levels. National cultural policies are strong and seem to be independent but today the European Agenda for Culture is a real framework to guide national cultural policies especially for small countries. In each country in Europe, agencies exist to relay european instructions on one hand and national, regional and local bodies and cultural operators on the other hand. These agencies are Relais Culture Europe in France, Visiting Arts in Great Britain, the Center for research and consultancy in the field of culture in Romania etc…

Between countries, regions and cities, partnerships exist to share experience, studies and fundings. For example in France, as it can be seen on the map I, many regions and cities have made partnerships with the French Institute particularly to provide mobility fundings for their artists.

french institute partnerships

Map I

In parallel with these top-down relationships, bottom-up relationships exist under the shape of networks. Indeed, networking seems to be the good way for local cultural operators to work together and to exist and be influent at the european level. Many cultural networks whose main aim is supporting artistic mobility are organised in Europe.

For instance, On the Move is an international cultural network which counts more than thirty members from twenty three countries in Europe. Its members are both local and national operators. It’s important to pay attention to the fact that these networks may be not only a place of exchange but also a way to create new programs or studies or tools for artists. On the move is one of them through the PRACTICS project. This is a pilot project, funded by the European Union that has created an information web platform and 4 Info points in Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and Wales.

Finally, twinning partnerships are an old but still strong way of cooperation. There are partnerships between cities, regions or countries. The European Union encourages transnational cooperation. For example, the Interreg programs fund cooperation between regions from each side of the borders. Even without european fundings, many countries have set up common artistic mobility programs to enhance their cultural cooperation. The map II shows two examples of cultural areas based on artistic mobilities in Nordic countries and Central Europe countries.

EU_exampleofregionalcoopMap II


Finally, Cultural bodies can be members of twinning programs like the cultural seasons between France and other countries which change every year.

So we have seen in this last point that the gap between cultural policies at each level must, in fact, be nuanced by the different ways of cooperation developed by cultural operators through borders and scales in Europe. But, except a few “top-down” partnerships, all the partnerships I have just talked about are not institutionals; they rely on projects: projects to work together in the case of networks, or projects for exchanging information or for benchmarking, or just for maintaining good relationships.


We have tried to explore the question of the impact of international artistic mobility on borders and territorial cultural specificities by analysing the first results of an exploratory research. This lead us to notice that, today, international artists’ mobility is a key issue for all cultural operators in Europe. For all of them, the issue is to reduce the impediments to trans-border mobility by encouraging it or making it easier.

Those who tend to facilitate trans-border artistic mobility, do it by coordinating the different policies or by organizing networks. These cultural operators are european or local bodies.

On the other hand, those who encourage mobility, do it by supporting artists who play the role of ambassadors in order to represent cultural excellence by means of cultural diplomacy. These cultural operators work for national, regional or metropolitan bodies.

So we can assume that the first way tends to reduce the role of borders and the second one tends to maintain the cultural specifities.


Amilhat-Szary, A.-L., Louargant, S., Koop, K., Saez, G., Landabidea Urresti, X., Ortega Nuere, C., San Salvador Del Valle, R., & Cuenca Cabeza, M. (2010). Artists Moving and Learning. A comparative study on artistic mobility. ENCACTC, European Commission.

Chaudoir, P. (2005). Les  résidences d’artistes en questions (Vol. 1-1). Lyon, France: l’Agence musique et danse Rhône-Alpes.

Cresswell, T. (2006). On the move : mobility in the modern Western world. New York: Routledge.

Deniau, M. (2011). Les échanges entre la France et l’Europe. Paris: Office National de Diffusion Artistique.

ERICarts Institute. (2006). Dynamics, Causes and Consequences of Transborder Mobility in the European Arts and Culture. LabforCulture.

ERICarts Institute. (2008). Mobility Matters, Programmes and Schemes to support the Mobility of Artists and Cultural Professionals. Bonn: European Commission.

European Commission. (2007). A European Agenda for Culture in a Globalizing World.

Raffestin, C. (1980). Pour une géographie du pouvoir (Vol. 1-1). Paris, France: Librairies techniques.

Retaillé, D. (2009). Malaise dans la géographie, l’espace est mobile. In Territoires, territorialité, territorialisation: controverses et perspectives. Présenté à Entretiens de la Cité des Territoires, Grenoble, 7 et 8 Juin 2007 « Territoires, territorialité, territorialisation… et après? », Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

Roé, C. (2009). La circulation internationale du spectacle: guide pratique de la diffusion du spectacle vivant, de la mobilité des artistes et des techniciens (Vol. 1-1). Paris, France: IRMA, Centre d’information et de ressources pour les musiques actuelles.

Saez, G., & Saez, J.-P. (2012). Les nouveaux enjeux des politiques culturelles: dynamiques européennes (Vol. 1-1). Paris, France: la Découverte.

Wiesand, A. (2007). National Policies Influencing Cultural Cooperation and Mobility in Europe. Bonn: ERICarts Institute.

Working group of EU member states’ experts on mobility support programmes. (2012). Report on Building a Strong Framework for Artists’ Mobility: Five Key Principles (p. 32). European Commission

Fabien Barthelemy. PhD candidate from the geography department of the University Joseph Fourier of Grenoble (France). Member of the laboratory Pacte-CNRS and involved in a research program of the Région Rhône-Alpes, his work deals with the observation and the analysis of artists’ international mobility in the institutionnal European frame.





[1] Radio « On parle musique » presented by Sylvie Chapelle on France Inter, on Friday 28th of June 2013.

[2] Interview Les inRocKuptibles, n°898, 2013

[3] Symposium “Art and Geography”, Lyon, February 2013


[5] “Donc voilà, c’est les deux axes, donc le premier c’est accompagner l’œuvre et l’artiste et le deuxième c’est valoriser aussi la Région Rhône-Alpes, faire connaître la Région et ses richesses à l’étranger, il y aussi cet aspect-là.”

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