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Arts and Non-Arts Partnerships: Opportunities, Challenges and Strategies

January 11, 200611 January 2006

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Based on interviews with participants in 28 partnerships between arts and non-arts organizations in nine American communities as well as survey data from five communities, this report examines the potential for such partnerships to accomplish both artistic and community-service goals. Non-arts partners interviewed include social service organizations, schools, libraries, housing and community development organizations, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and religious congregations. The report cautions that “such partnerships are not easy to forge or maintain” and that “just as financial investors risk their assets if projects fail, arts organizations and non-arts groups also risk reputations, time, money, or other assets in partnerships”. Some of these “other assets” include organizations’ expertise, constituent relations and missions.

Potential partnership benefits for arts organizations include “increased community awareness of their mission and services and improved outreach and involvement”. For non-arts organizations, the main potential benefit is quality programming, which can lead to “increased community and client involvement, improved public reputations, and more active constituent support”.

The report identifies important lessons for arts and non-arts partnerships. One such lesson: “Arts organizations need to realize that non-arts organizations often have processes developed specifically to promote community engagement and client participation. Artists accustomed to having full artistic control may view these processes as compromising their artistic integrity.” But “the legitimate requirements of non-arts organizations” should be accommodated.

The report identifies three major reasons for the failure of partnerships: “partners can’t carry out their assignments (“capacity risk”), won’t do so (“commitment risk”), or can’t agree on what counts as success (“culture risks”).” The fourth type of risk is the risk of unanticipated costs. The report explains these risks and how organizations can diagnose the structural and situational risks that they may encounter.

In order to support successful and lasting partnerships, funders are encouraged to “help identify, plan for, and cover the full range of expenses that these partnerships are likely to encounter”. Organizations should ensure that partnership “benefits are mutual and in accord with [organizations’] missions” and that “the potential risks and costs are anticipated and addressed”.

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