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Unlikely Bedfellows: Exploring Unique Performing Arts Collaborations

January 11, 200611 January 2006

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This Canadian research, based on interviews with over 50 people involved in “non-traditional” collaborations, provides a profile of these collaborations in order to understand how such partnerships may help performing arts organizations enhance their public profile, increase diversity, develop audiences, and strengthen financial resources.

The report notes that collaborations with business and community organizations may help them better understand artistic creativity and problem-solving and feel in touch with the cultural fabric of the community. One of the performing arts interviewees noted that most of the businesspeople with whom they interacted believed that creativity is “what other people do – that they themselves couldn’t be creative…. So what we did was get people first of all to recognize that they are creative all the time and that’s almost just a kind of switch you open in your head and it’s kind of a habit to install just to make choices.”

The report argues that “skills and attributes inherent in cultural industries can often prove to be of great value when applied to other areas of life…. Other sectors of society crave these kinds of resources and truly need the gifts that artists have to offer.” Valuable artistic skills and attributes include imagination, storytelling, problem-solving, creativity, abstract thinking and reflection.

The report identifies the precursors to collaboration, the process options for collaborations, and the products or outcomes of collaborations within and outside the performing arts.

The report also provides advice for organizations considering unusual partnerships. Three recommendations are made regarding the precursors to collaboration: “spend time outside one’s artform, engage people who bridge worlds, and draw from what you know”. Regarding the collaborative process, the report indicates that “appropriate alignment or fit is essential” and that the collaborative process should evolve gradually as exchange and learning take place. Regarding the “products of partnerships, two general insights can be derived: get the vision right, and allow for failure”.

Overall, the author believes that, “while the road to meaningful collaboration is not always smooth, the results can be well worth the effort.” However, “ill-conceived cooperative ventures can actually lead involved parties away from achieving their main objectives”.

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