A little while ago I was invited by Chichester Festival Theatre (CFT) to facilitate a discussion on initiating partnerships at a conference about creative collaboration. It was a great day with wonderful partnerships already in evidence: Cardboard Citizens with Clean Break, Home Manchester partnering with a Housing Association, CFT with a local Mental Health charity.
It felt that there might not be much left to discuss but you can always rely on creative minds to have questions and solutions. As we are coming up to Christmas and the season of fellowship, it feels like a good moment to reflect on the power of partnerships and the importance of the creative dating game. How do you know when you’re struck partnership gold?
Trust and Time, Picking your moment
Partnerships are easier with people we already know and trust so a lot of the questions were on the theme of how to establish that trust and how to you know when is the right to time to propose or accept a partnership? Where is the creative cross-over, what are the values that will hold this idea together? What will you all gain by working together? Sometimes it’s ok to say no as well as yes.
Considering the barriers to initiating partnerships we asked what stops us from making the first approach?
Fear, lack of knowledge, previous experience of getting burned? Building a store of knowledge about the area and going to events, researching connections, getting out of our silos, asking for help - whilst remembering that it isn’t fair to suck up resources from an overstretched individual or organisation, who may not be on a salary. Small arts organisations are very good at looking bigger than they are. Be realistic about what you can expect/ask from people. And know yourself/organisation and your own worth and capacity.
How do you move things along from “first date” to a creative play date and take the plunge into partnership? Are they really into [working with] you?
Building trust and taking time before leaping into a project is very helpful if you have the luxury of being able to do this. Checking that the expectations, that the terms of engagement, that the levels of contribution, channels of communication are all clear all the way along. Working small before you agree to climb Everest together.
A 22-carat diamond partnership
Projects and partnerships are multi-faceted. In the area of participatory arts where Spare Tyre makes our work, projects can take a long time to shine and often the final outcome bears little relation to the rough stone we started out with. Facilitating a group comprising NPOs, independent artists, the British Council and local authority officers, we considered how organisations of very different scales work together? How can Goliath learn from David, how can a grass roots organisation feel safe to share its connections. Can it feel and be treated like an equal partner when on the surface its resources aren’t as obvious? What will the legacy be like when a project is over?
When you love someone – set them free?
Finally it’s important to know when something hasn’t worked or better yet, when the best of partnerships has run its course. Often when it’s time to move on and/or make space for new partners, we find this very difficult. It’s good to talk - as the project and the partnerships progress. Honesty about what each partner needs and can offer is important at every stage. Just because you’ve done a project before doesn’t mean you could or should be the right people to do it again. Renewing your vows is important and so is being open to new partners and fresh beginnings. Who else is there that you’ve haven’t invited along, when is it time to refresh the gene pool? Difference isn’t risk-taking, it’s vital to survival. It’s ok to say good bye and respectful to make the leave-taking as considered as when you agreed to work together.
Spare Tyre is working with a few longstanding partners for which as the newly-arrived Artistic Director I’m very grateful and we’re already forging some new partnerships that we’re very excited about.
We’re looking forward to and wishing you a creative, campaigning and above all collaborative 2020.