The international is not just about what happens ‘elsewhere’. Here, we look at how it is implicit in ‘British’ Culture, a concept itself fluid, ambiguous and complex.

November 8, 2019

Earlier this month, Maya Sharma, Consultant for Diversity and Inclusion at The Audience Agency, attended The Garage Norwich’s annual New Horizons conference. Titled International Inspiration it examined how international work can positively impact our practice, organisations and communities. She reports …

The event was designed to stimulate discussion and debate, via a format where all delegates were treated as experts and invited to contribute. Inevitably the B-word was mentioned, but refreshingly, as one delegate reminded us, there is a whole world out there, it’s not all about Europe!

I found the conversation about the value of international work particularly interesting. Delegates talked about international collaboration being beneficial for all participants, particularly as it reminds us that there are a multitude of ways of seeing the world and none are necessarily “right”. I find this really interesting, belonging as I do to a former-colonial country that for centuries dominated much of a world imposing its own ideas about what is right and wrong.

“I was particularly struck by the idea that there is an inherent equality in working internationally (with partners working in each-others’ countries) as everyone experiences being abroad, working in different languages with different cultural norms – no one culture is dominant.”

One participant of the Dance IN project talked about being and speaking English “There’s an arrogance in turning up and expecting everyone to understand you.” I wondered whether there is a particular benefit for native English speakers in working in non-English speaking countries: a reminder of what it is to feel linguistically lost, unable to understand and participate easily in what is going on around you.

In the afternoon the dialogue shifted to focus on internationalism at home: working in and with multi-cultural communities. I took part in a panel sharing thoughts and experiences on this theme, and our discussion covered a number of practical and ethical issues such as:

  • The need for cultural organisations to reflect the communities they work in, and not only in front-of-house and engagement type roles: we wanted to see diversity in all areas and at all levels of organisations.
  • The importance of building and sustaining relationships with communities – don’t just parachute in when you want to start talking about a project
  • Data being essential to understand who you are and aren’t reaching, and the importance of fit-for-purpose data collecting systems to facilitate this. Malú Ansaldo from Roundhouse, for example, talked about how not having “Latin American” as a category for audience monitoring disenfranchised the significant Latin American communities in the UK.

The day managed to pack in so much about international and domestic work, drawing on the expertise of an extremely skilled and articulate body of delegates.

For me, perhaps the key take-away, is the idea that we should act as if we are working internationally even when involved in hyper-local work. This means making no assumptions that we all speak the same language – literally or metaphorically - or that we share the same cultural norms. If we take time to explain our language and unpick the cultural assumptions at play within the sector this can only result in work that is more accessible and engaging for people from all backgrounds.

There are more details of New Horizons on The Garage’s Blog HERE including a list and overview of the speakers.


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