Cultural exchange is an important means by which nations and communities translate themselves and are in turn translated by others. The Art of Cultural Exchange proposes an investigation into cultural exchange as an act of translation. It will focus on the transformations sought through the exchange of artists, arts production and artistic methodologies. The research project will ask what happens when artists translate ideas and practices from one cultural context to another: what gets lost and what gets learned in the adaptation? How are those who make the translations themselves transformed? How mutual is the act of translation and how sustainable is the process of transformation? If translation is, as is often said, a betrayal, then how do we understand and evaluate the importance of the gaps and losses that open up during the process?

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, in partnership with the British Council and the support of Arts Council England, The Art of Cultural Exchange forges a research collaboration between Queen Mary University of London and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.


Brazil has been consciously looked to in recent debates as providing both strong participatory arts traditions and state cultural policy initiatives that have been linked to wider strategies of social development.

This research project will connect to, build on and contribute to these debates but the enquiry will focus on  the extent to which cultural exchange makes possible their translation to new contexts.

It will investigate how ideas and practices are mutually translated and transmuted through cultural exchange, so that in consequence there is neither purity in the original idea or in its ‘translation’ or re-articulation through the practices of an-other, in another time and place. This discussion challenges the concepts of “authenticity” and “originality”, traditionally associated with the arts and culture, as they become meaningless in a mutual translating context.

There has been great interest in creating cultural dialogues with Brazil in recent years.  This project will ask how the UK and Brazil translate each other in cultural exchanges mediated by voices coming from the peripheries. The interpreters in this translation will include young artists and cultural activists emerging from Brazilian peripheries through a range of community based projects. Some of them will be invited to participate in the research directly, ensuring a greater diversity of perspectives.

Arts and cultural policy debates in the UK during the last decade have frequently been characterised by a search for a new social purpose and value for the arts, while maintaining the perceived aesthetic ‘excellence’ of the artistic endeavour. This research aims to contribute and widen these debates, investigating how radical practices and ideas in the Brazilian context bring new perspectives, alternative models and new ways of transformative working in the cultural sector.

The investigation will be a collaboration between academics, artists, policy makers, social and cultural agencies, and will aim to find new models for cultural exchanges. It will open up possibilities for new approaches and methodologies for use by arts organisations and policy makers, aiming to strengthen academic and cultural dialogues between Brazil and the UK. The Art of Cultural Exchange looks into different experiences emerging from Brazilian peripheral territories in the search for exchanges that may reveal new and challenging concepts about cultural value and the notion of translation itself.


This project aims to contribute to new understandings about translation of ideas, ideologies and forms of knowledge, as it looks for new ways to increase the potential of cultural exchanges.

The research will map collaborative arts projects between 2012 and 2016, a period of increased exchanges between Brazil and the UK, that coincides with the London to Rio Olympic handover period. Six case studies will highlight the social capital created, analysing the processes of cultural translation and transformation both in the peripheries and Brazilian urban centres. These case studies will be shared and debated in two seminars, in London and Rio de Janeiro, with academics, arts organisations, policy makers and funders. Thinkers from a variety of disciplines will be commissioned to produce position papers that will guide the discussions in the seminars.

Through its activities and publications the project seeks to contribute to the production of new knowledge and to impact on future cultural exchange practices.


A mapping of the diverse mechanisms of UK/Brazilian cultural exchange programmes undertaken between 2012-16, analysing their defining features and identifying through interviews with key stake-holders the opportunities, risks and challenges in achieving declared goals.

  1. Six case-studies of collaborative artistic exchange projects that are being implemented between 2012-16. The case studies will focus on how the exchanges look to mediate differences and translate the diversity of social backgrounds and cultural expressions. Special attention will be given to exchanges that contribute to producing and disseminating social technology innovations that transform the city landscape and the lives of their residents.
  2. Two interdisciplinary seminar forums (UK and Brazil) with academics, artists, young participants, activists, producers and policy makers directly engaged in diverse aspects of cultural exchange.
  3. The commissioning of four position papers from across a range of disciplines to reflect on key issues arising from cultural exchange as translation, to provoke and brief the seminars.
  4. A project website to host the results of the mapping exercise, publish progress reports and audio-visual documentation on the six case-studies, and provide online publication of the position papers and reports from the forum discussions.

The Art of Cultural Exchange / The Art of Cultural Exchange is a binational project coordinated by Professor Paul Heritage/Queen Mary University of London, and as a collaborator Researcher Professor Ilana Strozenberg/Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Learn more about the team here.