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Sponsored Partnership between ArtsProfessional and people make it work

It’s a fundamental matter of social justice that cultural provision and opportunities are so unequal. Richard Watts argues something must be done.

yellow sunflower petals

Aaron Burden

At people make it work, we believe great art and culture are essential for a life well lived. We’ve had extensive debates with colleagues in theatres, galleries, orchestras, festivals and cities about whether this is the right framing, and so far, we have stuck to our guns: essential it is.  

I wholeheartedly support the more equitable distribution of financial resources for culture around England, including the inevitable reduction of funds to some organisations that have been supported in the past. I also support conditions attached to public money in a way that increases cultural opportunity across the country. 

Let’s Create has my support. It’s most powerful when it instigates fundamental change; weakest when it’s moderated or neutralised by the powerful and well-resourced - rather than super-charged by the missing and the unfunded. 

Provision does not equal access

There’s a lot more organisations can do. Even where there is provision, it might not be accessible to people in the next ward, across identity groups or areas of interest. The idea that provision equals access is deeply flawed. We need to ensure that relevance, connection and access are baked into programme, experience design and audience relationships. 

ACE is expecting larger cultural organisations, particularly those based in London, to redouble their efforts towards a wider, deeper impact on audiences. As someone who has lived in many parts of the country, this is something I can get behind. But ACE’s take up of party-political slogans like levelling up feels unhelpful, despite the aim being one I support. 

It’s understandable that for some London organisations the mandate and implications (including an invitation of a voluntary move of operations) might be unappealing, but in the wider context of limited access to subsidised arts and culture, it’s a welcome move. 

Opportunities to broker better cultural investment

I am interested in what action is possible in a given context; the opportunities available for all to broker better local, cultural investment; and how the funded cultural organisations might build wider and deeper relationships across the country. 

A good example is Libraries Unlimited, serving Devon County Council and Torbay Unitary Authority, who have invited organisations from outside the region (including London) to come and explore partnerships. They run 54 libraries in communities across the county with 3 million annual visits from 100,000 members and have two levelling up areas and a priority area within their delivery area. 

Their invitation offers office space, brokered relationships with audiences and communities and opportunities to co-develop creative ideas and responses that will work with, by and for the people of Devon. 

By involving communities and potential audiences in that conversation they are taking positive action to make authentic, embedded creative collaboration more likely for the (under-served) people of Devon. What other such initiatives are there across England? 

Sitting in creative service to the places we work

Thinking about how to deepen and broaden participation beyond the walls of an arts organisation, we’ve identified six opportunities.

  1. Touring: creating and presenting creative work in more places - ‘touring to’, ‘touring from’ and ‘touring with’.
  2. Creative and cultural learning and engagement: – extending existing experience and practice of value in other contexts.
  3. Co-programming: –combining expertise, skills, identity and relationships to make work together.
  4. Co-locating:  sharing networks, relationships, embedded lived experience and perspectives while also sharing costs and space.
  5. Skills development:  learning skills and expertise beyond the organisation and place. 
  6. Procurement and services: shared overheads and outsourced services. 

As well as identifying areas where we can gain from others, or give something that deepens impact, it’s also crucial that this value exchange happens authentically, equitably and with a sense of parity. This is particularly true when what we bring to a new place is the product of inequitable funding allocations in past years. 

These are some of the characteristics such new partnerships might embody.

  1. Embedded relationships: committed, long term and invested relationships reflected in investment in infrastructure, local staff and durational programming.
  2. Shared learning: seeking to understand and be understood by learning from places, and the artists and organisations embedded in them. A curiosity about each other’s perspective on the world and what arts might connect and resonate in this place.
  3. Welcome/invitation-based collaboration: built on invitation not imposition, informed by local needs not those of the new arrivals.
  4. Collective co-created decision making: building in and embedding agency and insight from local artists, communities, audiences and partners.
  5. Local agency: a focus on the sovereignty of the publics and territories we work with (to borrow terms from Marcus Faustini) to be in creative service to the places we work.

Connecting beyond current relationships

To widen and deepen your impact in the ways outlined above, begin by mapping your assets against the six opportunities and then develop an offer, an enquiry or an invitation you can share across your networks. Ask them to share it across theirs. 

Your professional bodies might help to connect you beyond your current relationships too, as well as trustees, learning networks and interest groups you are associated with. 

At people make it work we’ve created a ‘wider deeper relationships brokering service' to support the brokering of relationships with other organisations that have the expertise you need, and to find places looking for your capability. 

If you want to identify new places to work before your ACE NPO submission, do get in touch so we can begin to enable the authentic partnerships you are seeking.

Richard Watts is a Director at people make it work.


people make is work is a group of 60 freelance cultural leaders who work together with a shared mission. Together, they support the cultural sector to change, develop and transform. They do that with direct strategic consultancy for organisations and cities, transformational programmes for organisations, leaders and creative individuals, and by offering free tools, guidance, advice and resources that everyone can access. They do all this to realise a fairer, more representative, resilient and relevant cultural sector.

This article, sponsored and contributed by people make it work, is part of a series sharing insights and learning to support the cultural sector change and develop to meet the challenges it faces.

Link to Author(s): 
Richard Watts