• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

As the Centre for Cultural Value (the Centre) re-opens its Collaborate fund, Alice Chandler reflects on the value of research partnerships between academics and the cultural sector.

Campaign posters
WhoseFuture 2021 Campaign by Rising Arts Agency (artwork by RTiiiKA)

Bryony Jade Throup

Collaborate funds joint projects between academics and cultural sector organisations, with awards ranging from £5,000 to £20,000. The programme is designed to deepen understanding of cultural value through investigation into live research, with a focus on co-developed, mutually supportive projects which explore under-researched issues, and with an emphasis on reflective practice, experimental methodologies and skill-sharing.

The first round of Collaborate was open to any UK-based, not-for-profit cultural organisation, creative practitioner or artist working in the arts, cultural, heritage or screen sectors. The successful projects are from a wide range of artforms and organisations of varying scales – from national players such as the Crafts Council and National Museums Liverpool, to smaller organisations such as Bristol-based Rising Arts Agency, Manchester’s live performance company Quarantine and Leeds-based Compass Live Art.  

The questions they’re exploring are wide-ranging too. Rising Arts Agency, for example, is looking at power dynamics and equitable partnerships in the grassroots cultural sector, while Quarantine is working with Physicist Rox Middleton to explore the notion of beauty and how it affects theatre audiences.

Light-touch approach

Using a dating-agency style approach, Collaborate’s application process takes place in bite-sized stages over several months - so admin for applicants is kept to a minimum and project concepts and partnerships are given time to develop. 

Firstly, cultural sector applicants submit a short, open-call expression of interest specifying an issue of relevance to their practice. These are assessed by a panel made up of the Centre’s team plus and independent academic and cultural sector partner. 

Jess Bunyan, Rising Arts Agency’s co-director appreciated that the information needed was light-touch and the supporting information clear. “We went through a three-stage process, but there was an application form we were familiar with, and the guidance was really helpful, so it wasn’t super onerous” explained Jess.

Finding a perfect match

The ten successful bids were offered to academics for them to submit expressions of interest in working with one of the projects. The Centre then undertook the shortlisting and matchmaking. 

As well as having research expertise in the specific area of interest, the successful researchers were those developed innovative methodologies and shared the ambition, enthusiasm and commitment to the project. 

For many cultural sector partners, this was a chance to discuss their ideas with interested academics for the first time. “We just do our work, but does it have academic merit?”, asked Jess from Rising Arts Agency, whose project with Dr Andreana Drencheva, King’s College London, explores how marginalised creatives navigate institutional power imbalances. “Talking to the academics about some of the models we've used before and them getting really excited was very reinvigorating. It gave a legitimacy to what we were doing.”

Once partners are matched, they work to co-develop the concept and write a funding proposal, supported by the Centre. 

Playing the long game

This process leaves vital room for the project and partnership to progress naturally and align with the aspirations of both partners. Jess found this slow-build approach helped generate new ideas: “We had shared values. It felt like every time we had a conversation, there were a million more things we wanted to chat about.”

For Peter Reed from Compass Live Art, whose project focuses on understanding the value and impact of co-created participatory work, the academic partners – Professor Matthew Reason and Lauren Hall from York St John University - became essential critical friends: “We were keen to work with someone with a bit of critical distance to our work, which is what we've really found through the process.” 

Peter added that the conversations with partners led to a greater clarity around the questions he wants to ask about co-creation at the Compass Festival, as well as helping him find effective processes to search for answers.  

He wants the research to have real-world impact on his organisation’s working practice not just now, but further down the line: “The longitudinal nature of the project means we're hoping to make some quite substantive decisions about the way we offer residencies, programme the festival and commission artists for the next ten years.”

Thinking outside the box

The next round of Collaborate funding opens for expressions of interest from the cultural sector on 17 October. The Centre team is keen to see even more applications from organisations and individuals across the UK. 

“I think it's important with this fund that you genuinely want to look at something from a different perspective,” says Jess. She advises future applicants to reflect carefully on their current working practices and future development, acknowledge past failures, and use the opportunity to explore something which might challenge the way their organisation works, or indeed the cultural sector as a whole. 

Peter agrees. “Don’t just go straight in with the obvious. Take some time to really think. What is the burning question that has the potential to make some real change to the work you're doing?”

Thinking of applying for the next round? The Centre will be running a series of online support events as well as providing detailed guidance and FAQs. For more information and to follow the progress of this year’s projects, visit www.culturalvalue.org.uk/collaborate-fund.

Alice Chandler is a postgraduate researcher in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds. 

This article, sponsored and contributed by the Centre for Cultural Value, is part of a series supporting an evidence-based approach to examining the impacts of arts, culture and heritage on people and society.

Link to Author(s):