Created by MFA alumni, Soohye Jang, this document is a guide for U.S. artists to become more familiar with international performance and exhibition opportunities. Along with a collection of resources, Jang gives personal advice based on her experience as an international curator and liaison.
Hi, I am an international performing arts liaison / journalist based in Seoul, Korea. I’ve curated international artists from Europe, Asia, US, and so on. Unlike the European funding model (Paris $3.544mil Public Funding, $158mil Individual/Foundation) or Asian funding model ( Seoul $905mil Public Funding, $153mil Individual/Foundation/Corp Funding), the US model has a different structure (NY alone, $587mil Public Funding, $1,639mil Individual/Corp/Foundation Funding, sources from World Cities Culture Forum).
While European, South American, African, and Asian countries are expanding their international exchange opportunities, it is challenging to see any American artists touring abroad. I saw many good performances when I lived in Seattle, WA, but it was hard for me to invite them back to perform in my city. When I offered opportunities for US artists, I would always hear back, “We can’t afford flight tickets” or “Pay is too small.” I then assumed that they weren’t interested in international touring or exchange opportunities.
My assumption was wrong and I am happy to assist in helping artists who are willing to try. I have gathered some basic, but useful tips about funding opportunities and marketing/PR for US performing arts artists. If you (US artists) are still interested, read through.
First, international curators can’t always come to see you perform which is where marketing comes into play.
Most curators pick artists from international festivals or markets. But there are certain types of arts being presented in international festivals that are often found boring. Thus, curators exchange information with others about who and what they find most interesting. Having an updated portfolio and website with images and videos will help curators find your work more effectively.
Second- Funding Opportunities
A strength of the arts in the US is the promotion of local arts. Artists can survive and become famous without really leaving their own cities or having themselves being compared to the other global artists’ excellence. (Perhaps the biggest opportunity for them is to tour to NY, Chicago, or LA?!) The downside of US arts is that the perspective can be narrow and their artistic choice is based on the issues that are not universal but local. I believe that US artists have so much more potential if they can accept this fact.
When an international institution invites you, they will offer a budget that will be spent in their country (inviting side) such as a per diem, hotels, performance fee, or any other marketing/production budget. Sometimes, you will get paid really well, but most nonprofit institutions have limited budgets. When a commercial theater invites you, you might get profit sharing too (very rare). Therefore, international curators are also taking a big risk by inviting you. Most times, international institutions won’t pay for production staff if you are bringing them along or your flight ticket. (I know artists love working with people who they trust. But trust me, you will easily find supportive and well-skilled local staff members if you can only bring the clear tech rider. You should know how to be flexible too. Or get more funding for your fellow technicians.) You may think that this is a waste of your time and energy, but think of this opportunity as an investment for your growth, just like what Trevor Noah said: “Travel the world. See another place. Discover a different point of view. Traveling is the antidote to ignorance.” I promise it will be a great lesson for you.
How do you get flight tickets then? Grants!
There are specific grants and or private funding opportunity for US artists going abroad! Just ask for an invitation letter to inviting curators or official institutions. Here are a few foundations and organizations that may help.
The Compton Foundation supports organizations that help artists engage with social and environmental change.
The Pulitzer Arts Foundation offers a robust roster of programs that bring together leading figures from fields such as art, architecture, design, urban planning, social work, technology, and science. Such initiatives have for instance included Marfa Dialogues / St. Louis (2014) - a collaborative summit on global climate change with St. Louis as a case study.
The Thriving Cultures program of the Surdna Foundation is based on a belief that communities with robust arts and culture are more cohesive and prosperous, and benefit from the diversity of their residents. The Foundation encourages cross-cutting proposals that connect to the work of the Foundation’s Strong Local Economies and Sustainable Environments programs.
Alliance for Artists Communities have resources for residencies in visual arts, writing, composing, architecture, and more.
ResArtist also offers information about international residencies/ cross-cultural funding opportunities
Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation – U.S. Artists Abroad
This grant program supports performances by American artists at important cultural festivals and arts marketplaces around the globe. Committed to the presence of US based artists on world stages, USArtists International provides grants to ensembles and individual performers in dance, music and theatre invited to perform at significant international festivals.
American Dance Abroad is a national organization that connects U.S. choreographers and dance companies with international presenters and dance professionals on every continent. Its mission is to strengthen the export of American dance artists and companies by helping them to build international relationships.
Theater Communications Group Global Connections was designed by TCG and is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Robert Sterling Clark Foundation for US-based theatre organizations and individual artists. For instance, Global Connections—On the Road: This initiative will award 12 grants of up to $5,000 each to foster new relationships with international colleagues that will inspire each other’s work and aesthetics by creating opportunities for cultural exchange.
NALAC – Transnational Cultural Remittances Program was launched in 2008 with support from the Ford Foundation. The Transnational Cultural Remittances (TCR) grant program supports exemplary cultural exchanges that promote grassroots artistic collaboration and strengthen social networks between the United States, Mexico and Central America.
U.S. Department of State Fulbright Program is committed to providing opportunities for American and foreign artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, and musicians to showcase their creativity. A large number of Fulbright grants are offered to applicants in the performing and visual arts each year.
Association of Performing Arts Presenters Cultural Exchange Fund(CEF) (must be the member of apap) is a travel subsidy program supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that assists U.S.-based APAP members in building partnerships and collaborations outside of the U.S. and to experience the work of artists from around the world in its cultural context
Artists from Abroad is sponsored by the League of American Orchestras and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.They provide a guide for immigration and tax issues presented to artist from abroad.
Cultural Mobility Funding Guide for the USA: The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center is creating, in collaboration with the European cultural mobility information network On the Move and the U.S.-based grassroots international network Theatre without Borders, a free and user-friendly guide to funding for international exchange for artists traveling to and from the USA. This guide builds upon On the Move’s existing guides for artists and cultural professionals in Europe, Asia, and Arab countries.
Foundation for Arts Initiatives is a private foundation, independent of any governments, agencies, NGOs, or their related agendas, which supports contemporary visual arts and culture. It provides support to new and alternative forms of institutions for operations, projects and research, and makes grants to individuals for research and travel. Individuals may submit an inquiry for a Fund for Arts Research grant of $7,500 for research and travel. You can apply at any time, but grant review can take up to 6 months.
The Open Society Fellowship supports individuals pursuing innovative and unconventional approaches to fundamental open society challenges, in any of the 5 issues identified by the Open Society Foundations (Health, Education & Youth, Governance & Accountability, Media & Information, Right & Justice). Applicants should possess a deep understanding of their chosen subject and a track record of professional accomplishment. Past and current fellows have included journalists, activists, academics, and practitioners in a variety of fields.
The Prince Claus Fund’s Ticket Fund supports the cross-cultural exchange of artists and cultural practitioners by covering travel costs, in particular for artists and cultural practitioners living in Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, non-EU Balkans and non-EU Eastern Europe who wish to travel within these areas. Priority is given to individuals up to 35 years old and/or within the first 10 years of their career.
UNESCO International Fund for the Promotion of Culture(IFPC) was established in order to give greater prominence to culture in the development of individuals and societies and of strengthening international cultural cooperation, as well as to provide assistance for artistic creation and cultural activities. The Fund will provide financial support on the basis of a call for proposals opening once a year. Priority is given to young artists/creators (18-30 years old) and to projects benefitting youth.
Third, you are not just a touring artist, but a cultural ambassador now.
Think of a way to collaborate with local artists in the visiting city. Funding opportunity gets higher if the piece is a premiering piece and has a long-term goal. When the institution invites you, make sure to invite the international artists back to your own city in the future as well. Just like what I explained above, each city has funding opportunities for their own artists’ flights and lodging. You will only have to find an opportunity in your own city to perform, get performance fees, and invite a bunch of local audience members!
For my city, we communicate among international curators a lot. When we invite international artists, we try our best to book them in different stages, or suburb cities in Korea (Arts curation is too focused in the Seoul that we try to decentralize the performing location.) For this, it is possible that you will have a week and a half of full schedule rehearsing, teaching, and performing in Seoul, then travelling to Busan, Deagu, and Jeju. Often, international artists will collaborate with local artists during this process and will invite the piece back to their own countries. So, you are acting as a cultural ambassador who embarks on foreign exchange opportunities. Also, don’t forget to plan in advance at least 1-3years before.
Lastly, leave your mark. Because the chance is so rare, foreign media loves to highlight this kind of work. When I curate international artists, I will always spread the PR material to media and will often get TV interviews, news articles, etc. This is not only good for us curators, but also good for your own funding opportunities in the future. Same goes for international artists visiting your city. Think of a way to publish or record your collaboration. How do you measure the success? We all know arts don’t equivalent money. Leave your mark. This will at least be a stepping stone for the funding in future.