Arts and culture fuels innovation and as a result needs to be at the table in any key strategic conversations about U.S. foreign policy as well as serving as a key component in strengthening our relationships abroad through effective international exchange and economic diplomacy.

Americans for the Arts encourages international cultural exchange between arts organizations and professionals to learn from one another and share our common struggles and solutions in our ongoing efforts to ensure thriving arts centers around the world. As a result we are often asked join or host delegations of international arts leaders.

Cultural Tourism

Traveling the world and experiencing first-hand the art and culture that a country has to offer continues to grow in popularity. The nations who take an active role in promoting cultural tourism in their countries continue to see the rewards of their efforts.

Within the United States, cultural tourism has become a powerful means of expressing the uniqueness of the many diverse places and people found across our country. Globally the travel market has become increasingly competitive. In 2012, a record $67 million came to the United States through tourism, an increase of $4.3 million in 2011. The 2012 report, National Travel and Tourism Strategy available from the Office of Travel & Tourism Industries puts forth policies, actions, and recommendations that promote domestic and international travel throughout the United States. Americans for the Arts continues to work with our nations policy makers to advance cultural tourism in the United States. Download our one pager for some quick facts about cultural tourism in the United States.

Americans for the Arts' Resources
  • 2013 Cultural Tourism Fact Sheet
  • The National Arts Index finds favorable continuing trends for Cultural Tourism
    • U.S. cultural destinations help grow the U.S. economy by attracting foreign visitor spending. Cultural tourism by foreign visitors is, effectively, a form of export by domestic arts and culture industries. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the percentage of international travelers including “art gallery and museum visits” on their trip has grown since 2003 (17 to 24 percent), while the share attending “concerts, plays, and musicals” increased from 13 to 17 percent since 2003.
    • The U.S. keeps strengthening its international trade surplus. U.S. exports of arts goods (e.g., movies, paintings, jewelry) increased from $64 to $72 billion between 2010 and 2011, up 11 percent. With U.S. imports at just $25 billion, the arts achieved a $47 billion trade surplus in 2011.
Other Resources

Cultural Exchange: Ensuring Growth

Rising powers, growing instability, and technological transformation create new threats, but also new opportunities. Leveraging civilian, non-governmental, and non-military power to advance our country’s national interests is a cost-effective investment for the American people. International cultural exchange among people living in different countries acts as a powerful tool for preventing armed conflict and managing crises, as well as a catalyst to spur economic growth. The First Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency of International Development calls for the use of civilian power to advance our national interests and to better partner with the U.S. military.

In envisioning a greater role for the arts in cultural diplomacy and engagement, 36 national and international public and private sector leaders met for the 2009 National Arts Policy Roundtable, The Role of the Arts in Strengthening and Inspiring the 21st Century Global Community. Because of the power of the arts to transcend differences and communicate across cultures, participants agreed on the need to assert a more visible and active role for the arts in improving the relations between the United States and the world. Five areas of recommendation emerged from the participants' discussions, which represent opportunities for improving public and private sector cooperation and action.

Areas of Focus

While there are many aspects the contribute to successful cultural exchange programs, two issues severely impact that success and growth of such programs.

  1. Inconsistent processing of foreign artists’ visa applications by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  2. A lack of funding for the Cultural Programs Division of the State Department’s Office of Citizen Exchanges, resulting in difficulties in cultural exchanges.

To learn more about these issues and see how you can help, visit the Legislative Issues Center

Other Resources

Key Terms and Definitions

Cultural Diplomacy: A course of actions that are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions, and other aspects of culture or identity. The purpose of cultural diplomacy is to strengthen relationships, enhance sociocultural cooperation, and promote national interests. Cultural diplomacy can be practiced by the public sector, private sector, or civil society. For more about work in Culture Diplomacy visit the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy's website.

Citizen Diplomacy: The concept that the individual has the right, even the responsibility, to help shape U.S. foreign relations “one handshake at a time.” Citizen diplomats can be artists, students, teachers, athletes, artists, business people, humanitarians, adventurers, or tourists. They are motivated by a responsibility to engage with the rest of the world in a meaningful, mutually beneficial dialogue. For  more information visit the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy's website.

Engagement: The active participation of the United States in relationships beyond our borders. Cultural engagement is mainly achieved through arts exchanges carried out for the primary purpose of the mutual transmission of cultural expression and artistic ideas.

21st Century Statecraft: New policies and programs that seek to leverage the power of information networks to support everything from improving healthcare and education to growing economies and expanding participation in government. This also includes new approaches to fostering civil society organizations and post-conflict stabilization work. For a broarder definition visit the U.S. Department of State's web pages.

Creative Industries: Composed of both nonprofit and for profit businesses involved in the creation or distribution of the arts. In the United States, there are 904,581 such businesses and they employ 3.34 million people. The creative industries are a powerful economic driver as well as contributors to our nation’s cultural diversity, identity, traditions, and innovations. Learn more about Creative Industry Reports.

While Americans for the Arts has not published a report on international models, here are a few resources on creative industries outside the United States.

Public Diplomacy (PD): Supports U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives by expanding and strengthening the relationship between the people and government of the United States and the citizens of the rest of the world. For examples of programs in support of Public Diplomacy visit the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational And Cultural Affairs website.

There are 5 strategic imperatives for PD in the 21st century:

  1. Shape the narrative
  2. Expand and strengthen people to people relationships
  3. Combat violent extremism
  4. Inform policy making
  5. Deploy resources in line with current priorities.

More Resource

Americans for the Arts Resources

Ondemand Webinar: Think Globally-Act Locally: How Local Arts Agencies Are Acting on the Global Stage
Moderated by Director of Arts Policy at Americans for the Arts Marete Wester, this webinar is focused on international cultural engagement on the local level.

Americans for the Arts and Creative Leaps International partner with the US Department of State Economic Bureau and the Aspen Institute on PNB-NAPEO Creative Industries and Cultural Economy Incubator
Read about the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO), a public-private partnership linking entrepreneurs and business leaders in the United States and North Africa in a variety of business sectors.

Local Art Agency (LAA) International Survey
The Local Arts Agency International Cultural Engagement Survey (LAA International Survey) solicited specific information from the local arts agencies (LAAs) that had self-identified as being engaged in international cultural activities through the American for the Arts 2010 Membership Survey. This survey elicited data from 19 of the original 75 organizations (a 25 percent response rate) and was complemented by in-depth interviews with representatives from select participating organizations.

Organizations Working in International Cultural Exchange