In this blog series, we’d like to seed conversations about what meaningful community-engaged participatory arts for social change (ASC) partnerships can look like, how they can be effective and enriching, while also discussing some of the challenges and difficulties. The content of this series draws primarily on research conducted by Judith Marcuse (Principle Investigator on the ASC! Project) and Nicole Armos (ASC! Research Assistant) during the 2013-2019 Art for Social Change (ASC!) Research Project, but the content of these posts is meant only as a starting point. We want to hear your thoughts too!
Read the other episodes in the series here: Post #1 > Post #2 > Post #3 > Post #4 > Post #5 > Post #6 > Post #7 > Post #8 > Post #9 > Post #10 > Post #11
ASC Partnerships Blog Series Post #11 (last post): Why Partnering Matters
ASC partnerships can involve a wide range of relationships, roles, and responsibilities, ranging from relatively simple funding support to contexts in which the community participants are central partners in the conceptualization, implementation, and evaluation of the project. In this series of blog posts, we have looked at many aspects of these partnerships, emphasizing in particular the centrality of initial and ongoing communication to develop mutual understandings of language, process, outcomes and constraints, as well as the iterative nature of the process itself.
But we have perhaps taken for granted that partnerships are valuable and relevant to ASC work in the first place. In this final post in the series, we’ll take a step back to look at the bigger picture of why partnerships matter, starting with the benefit of partnerships to the ASC practitioner and the sector, and expanding to consider the how partnerships enable the sector to bring about greater social change.
Developing ASC Communities of Practice
In our conversations with both emerging and established ASC practitioners, we repeatedly heard about the need for increased knowledge exchange and networking with other practitioners. While the ASC sector is rapidly growing, many individuals and organizations are working in isolation, unfamiliar with each other’s work, and unaware of existing opportunities for professional development, collaboration, and dialogue. These gaps are felt most strongly across provincial and territorial boundaries, and between urban and rural practitioners. Almost everyone we interviewed expressed interested in seeing increased partnering across ASC practitioners/organizations to help improve understanding of what others in the field are doing, to benefit from shared resources, and to create a sense of community and ongoing development as ASC practitioners.
Increasing the Visibility of ASC Across Sectors
Despite growing interest in the integration of ASC practices into a broad spectrum of change agendas, the potential of cross-sector partnerships remains largely unrealized. Our research has identified a lack of visibility and understanding of ASC work in Canada, despite our global reputation as pioneers in the field. Knowledge about the range and impact of this work for individuals, communities and systems change is growing, but is still largely ‘under the radar,’ especially in the general public sphere and within federal government departments and policies.
Partnerships can help those in other sectors understand what ASC is and what it can offer. Many ASC initiatives begin as workshops or joint pilot projects and gradually build-up to large scale projects or ongoing programs as new partner organizations come to understand the work and discover ways that ASC approaches can help them achieve their goals. These partnerships, in turn, can help others in the partner organization’s sector come to learn about ASC and understand the potential benefits of seeking their own partnerships with ASC practitioners.
A single ASC practitioner or ASC organization is unlikely to have all of the resources, funding, and community-specific knowledge to maximize their impact. Partnerships allow the ASC practitioner/organization to focus on applying their own expertise in the most effective way possible, while the partners use their own complementary skills and resources. Together, partners can ensure they understand the needs of the community they seek to serve, and together they are more likely to be able to meet those needs effectively.
Increasing the Positive Impact of ASC Work
Ultimately, ASC work is not about the ASC practitioner or the partner organizations – it’s about the participants and their communities. Taken together, the benefits of developing ASC communities of practice, increasing the visibility of ASC across sectors and increasing capacity all contribute to increasing impact. Strong partnerships can create positive effects both in the short term – on the “current” project – and in the long term, expanding the reach and long-lasting social change impact of the work far beyond what any one practitioner or organization could achieve alone.
Through this blog series, we've shown that developing and maintaining a partnership certainly requires effort - to identify potential partners, build relationships, establish shared language, and navigate potentially conflicting power dynamics and organizational policies. We hope we have also shown that investing that effort can result in high-impact ASC work that makes a real difference in the lives of participants.
How has forming partnerships for ASC work helped you or the communities you seek to serve with your ASC work? Have you been part of a partnership that really clicked, and, if so, what did you achieve as partners that you could not have done alone?
Thank you for following our Partnerships Blog Series. Please stay tuned to icasc.ca on Facebook and Twitter for additional news about opportunities to connect with other ASC practitioners and organizations. If our blogs have assisted your work, please be sure to let us know!