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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with NCACE

One of the largest surveys ever undertaken between the arts and academia produced some new perspectives on how collaborations can be forged. Evelyn Wilson and Emily Hopkins share their insights.

performers dance in front of a lit up building
Sunderland Culture

Last month we published two reports* on the findings from our Collaborating with Higher Education survey. With over 500 respondents, it gathered the thoughts and experiences of professionals and practitioners across the arts and culture sector. We hope our findings provide inspiration and insight into the potential of knowledge exchange partnerships. 
The nature of collaborations and the forms they take are as wide-ranging as they are numerous. The stories that emerged from the survey gave a very compelling snapshot of how arts and cultural organisations - and individual practitioners – are working with Higher Education.

Types of collaboration  

In the report, we attempt a typology of all collaborations being co-developed, and the activities associated with them. The following is a synopsis of the most frequently reported types of collaborations being co-developed, and the activities associated with them, how they are typically funded and the values and indeed challenges they bring.  

  • Research: producing or commissioning cultural or creative research alongside academic staff. 
  • Teaching: teaching, running workshops, co-developing degrees and acting as mentors in universities. 
  • Placements: hosting students (of all levels from undergraduates to PhD students) for work experience placements, collaborative doctoral awards and other opportunities. 
  • Public and community engagement: co-producing festivals including interdisciplinary health-led projects for example.
  • Collaborative programming/commissioning: developing and curating exhibitions and performances. 
  • Artist/Company-in-Residence: embedding the individual or organisation within the university with access to space and resources. This can be reciprocal with researcher in residence placements where academics can access cultural spaces and resources. 

The activities associated with collaborations are rich and varied, generating outputs ranging from conferences, performances, exhibitions and installations to publications, lecture series and open-source software co-creation. In addition, partnerships based on research often produce projects associated with archives, collections or other cultural assets.  
As well as these cultural activities, there are often infrastructural and developmental benefits too such as the co-development of physical infrastructure; the creation of consortia; industry knowledge-sharing; community engagement and mentoring.   

Who pays? 

Working with universities is not an automatic route to cash or funding. However, half (50.62%) of those who responded to questions about funding told us their university partner plays a key role in funding the collaboration.  
Interestingly, the second most reported source of funding is the cultural organisation itself, suggesting the sector places increasing value on research, such as evaluation.  
Other sources of funding were Arts Council England (28%), trusts and foundations (22.84%); the Arts & Humanities Research Council (14.81%) and local authorities (12.96%).  

Partnerships and place 

As the focus on placemaking and Levelling Up continues, it is no surprise that many collaborations are connected to communities and place. Place-based partnerships with a socially engaged focus are particularly prevalent.  
Examples include community legacy-building; co-designing activities with the community; place-based research and evaluation; the study of cultural participation and production in specific neighbourhoods; and understanding the lives and working practices of professional artists in place.

Collaborations aiming to generate economic impact were also rich in their range and ambition. Some partnerships are driving substantial investments into new theatres, museums or regenerated public spaces, with the social impacts of co-producing art in these spaces often the key focus of the partnership.

Others are designed to generate cultural impact in an area. A common activity here is the co-development of skills and capacity-building workshops. Projects involving local students are also frequently mentioned with many respondents citing the hope to expand their local cultural ecology by forging new connections with students.

Finally, collaboration is often seen as key to cultural leadership and decision-making, producing new Memorandums of Understanding and co-delivery roles for cultural programmes and pilot projects. 

Benefits and challenges 

Respondents were generally very positive about their partnerships, valuing in particular: access to research; academic rigour; skills, expertise and advice; contributions from students at all levels of study; profile and status-raising; and access to funding, resources and facilities.  
The social and networking dimension was also key to the success of many projects, with the formation of strong personal relationships, often developed over long periods of time, seen as crucial to the success of partnerships.  
As with all relationships, things are not all plain sailing. The challenges most frequently cited included: issues relating to funding or the lack of it; differences in scale leading to power imbalances; and poor communication leading in some cases to disruptions and delays.  

Make time to explore new opportunities 

What this survey underlines is that these partnerships are already part of the DNA of many arts and cultural organisations. In over half of instances, it is the arts side of the partnership which is crucial to leading or co-designing the collaboration.  
Furthermore, the more experienced individuals and organisations are the ones with the most ambitious and prolific relationships. They are also the ones who best understand how to access our funding and other opportunities.  
As the importance of research impact and knowledge exchange for universities grows, so too will new opportunities arise. Both sectors have much to offer to enrich each other.  
Conversations, networking and making the time and space to explore new collaborative potential can bring benefits with wider ramifications, socially, culturally, environmentally and economically.  There is much to be gained from such endeavours.

Evelyn Wilson is Co-Director of NCACE and TCCE.  
Emily Hopkins is Senior Manager, Research, Evidence and Policy at NCACE.

 @evelyntcce | @emilyhopkins_ | @CultureImpacts

* You can access the reports using the links below or via the NCACE Evidence Repository 

Sign up to the NCACE Monthly Bulletin.

This article from National Centre for Academic and Cultural Exchange (NCACE) is one of a series of articles and case studies to shine a light on knowledge exchange and cultural partnerships between Higher Education and the arts and cultural sector.

Link to Author(s): 
Photo of Evelyn Wilson
photo of Emily Hopkins