"In the long history of animal kind (and human kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." -- Charles Darwin


Commentary: A funder's guide to best practice in collaborative working in the arts

MissionModelsMoney.org.uk 2010 report [PDF download]

[W]hilst artists have a proud and promiscuous history of collaborating across every imaginable boundary, arts and cultural organisations have too often tended to work in isolation or in competition. As a result, there is significant unrealised potential for arts and cultural organisations to leverage their own talents and those of other organisations by working together on developing mergers, back office consolidations and joint ventures. The over-extended and under-capitalised nature of the sector, "with too many organisations trying to do more things than they can possibly do well, with both human and financial resources too thinly spread" suggests that releasing this potential is a priority. But whilst some arts organisations have shown an interest in developing collaborative working practices around back office functions and in programme areas such as education and learning, experience has been limited and there has been little shared learning of current practice. The extensive literature that exists on the practice of collaboration in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors tends to reflect on three recurring themes. Firstly, good collaboration is hard and when it works it amplifies strength, but poor collaboration is worse than no collaboration at all. Secondly, good collaboration often requires competencies, qualities and attributes that are not commonly observed in many executive leaders, (although they may be nascent rather than absent), but without these, they will not learn how to develop the systemic thinking they need to tackle the increasingly complex problems they face. Thirdly, knowing how to evaluate opportunities for collaboration, spot the barriers to collaboration and tailor collaboration solutions are prerequisites for building the capacity for resilience. The role of funders - encouraging and supporting collaborations, consolidations, mergers and other long-term cooperative activities in order to enable the creation of 'more great art for everyone' - is vital, and this guide has been especially written with them in mind.

FROM TC: You'll find more on the topic of collaboration on MMM's website here.


Small NYC arts orgs find strength in numbers, win more foundation funding

Miriam Kreinin Souccar, Crains New York Business, 10/30/11

Battery Dance Company, a 36-year-old modern dance group in lower Manhattan that performs all over the world, was nearly wiped out by the recession. Its foundation support dwindled to just $30,000 in 2009, and its executives had to cut the annual operating budget in half, to $400,000. But by 2010, just one year later, the company's budget was back up to $800,000, and foundation support had more than quadrupled.  [They attribute] the organization's quick turnaround to an unusual alliance between 11 small to midsize downtown cultural organizations who banded together in 2009, during the depths of the recession. Members of the group, called the Lower Manhattan Arts League, helped BDC get a three-year, $200,000 grant from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, and provided space for Battery Dance's most recent season, among other feats. The league -- which includes small groups like Access Theater and larger organizations such as Dance New Amsterdam and the Children's Museum of the Arts -- has monthly meetings where constituents help each other with everything from fundraising to legal advice. The groups have created a downtown cultural festival, which they produce in the fall and spring. The members even apply for some grants as one entity and lobby the city government as a pack. Individually, some members with budgets as small as $100,000 are barely on funders' radar, but as a group the members generate around $14 million in economic activity per year and employ roughly 1,200 people full- and part-time. After years when none of the groups were able to score a grant from American Express, for example, the consortium applied together in 2009 and was awarded $100,000. They divvied up the money according to the size of each budget. Such camaraderie is nearly unheard of in New York's competitive cultural universe, especially now, when dollars for the arts are scarcer than ever before. But it has paid off: The members of the league have thrived in the aftermath of the recession, while other larger, better-known institutions have struggled. "It's a very unusual collaboration," said Fran Smyth, manager of arts services at the Arts & Business Council of New York. "Their model is an excellent one for people to follow. Cooperation is the key to survival for a lot of arts groups today."


Major funder seeks to improve collaborations between artists & arts organizations

Letter from Ben Cameron, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation website, 10/20/11

DDCF is thrilled to announce the creation of a special initiative to support artists in the fields of jazz, theatre and contemporary dance. [One of the three parts of this initiative is a Doris Duke Artist Residencies program.] As we considered the needs of artists for their own lives, we remained acutely aware that the artists with whom we work need healthy, sustained relationships with organizations to nurture, present and produce their work. Recent conversations around the country among those in the arts indicated a fraying of those relationships, a sense of palpable frustration on both sides of the proverbial table. Indeed, many of those conversations seemed locked in an adversarial dynamic, even while both sides acknowledged the huge challenges involved in engaging audiences and communities around new and unknown work, especially work that might challenge traditional forms. Our own belief is that this issue of how to reach audiences and communities is the critical challenge for the performing arts today, and the most important factor that underlies the need for all support for artists, charitable giving, government giving, etc. Could artists and organizations move beyond traditional points of contention to examine how artists and audiences might work together in new ways to nurture and expand the audience for the new work they felt called to do? While we are cheered and inspired by the emergence of new residency programs to support artists in their creative explorations, ours is not a residency program designed to support creative artistic time as its primary intent. Ours is instead about supporting a partnership between an artist who wishes to explore and reimagine institutional life and behavior, and an organization willing to open itself to that exploration. They are also about reimagining how an organization and an artist connect to their community and supporting a pilot effort to behave in new ways. And they are about the creative engagement of audiences in ways which give the organization and artist an equal stake.

Please consider the environment before printing out this email.  Thanks.
YOU'VE COTT MAIL is a free service for professionals in the arts.  Emails are sent most weekdays. 
If you are not already on the distribution list and would like to sign up, please click here:

Join Our Mailing List      Follow me on Twitter     
Click here to view an archive of recent past editions of "You've Cott Mail."