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
ASC Partnerships Blog Series Post #10: Partnership Models
In this tenth post of the ASC Partnerships Blog Series, we’ll step back from specific examples and issues and look at the three broad categories of partnership models that we saw most often in our research:
- Resource-based partnerships
- Capacity-building partnerships
- Project/Programming-based partnerships
Before we look at each one, we want to acknowledge that ASC projects often involve multiple partners who are engaged in the work in different ways. For instance, one partner’s involvement may be limited to providing funding; another may contribute staff time and workshop space; and a third may provide knowledge of the community that will benefit from the work. Also, boundaries can often be less defined. Many partnerships may lean more towards one category, yet have characteristics of other categories.
Still, we believe these three categories can be useful when clarifying what type of relationship each practitioner/organization/community is looking for.
A resource-based partnership is one in which a partner’s primary contribution is a specific resource: financial support, workshop space, supplies, etc. In a resource-based partnership, the partner providing the resource typically does not have much say in the goals of the project or how it evolves. They are supportive enough of the project to be affiliated, but their staff are not usually actively involved in the substance of the work.
Resource-based partnerships can be critical to making a project possible. The boundary between a “funder,” “sponsor,” or “supplier,” and a “partner” is often blurry and can sometimes be influenced by how the partner would like to be acknowledged as much as by the substance of the support.
- Some granting agencies, for example, see themselves as partners in the substance of the work that they support and engage in ongoing discussion with grant recipients, while others simply want to be acknowledged as having provided the funding that allowed the ASC practitioner or organization to do its work.
- A local grocery store may be content to be listed as a “sponsor” for providing food for an event, or they may prefer to have a “partner” status to demonstrate their commitment to being more involved in the project and their local community.
- A charter bus company that offers a deeply discounted rate to help participants get to and from an ASC event may see this as just another business transaction; perhaps, they offer that discount to all nonprofit clients. Or, they may have a personal connection to the work and be deeply disappointed to be labeled simply as a “supplier.”
An often-overlooked type of resource-based partnership are those based on specialized skills. For example, companies that want to “give back” to their community may be willing to provide a certain number of staff hours to support an ASC project. Staff with specialized skills in anything from marketing, to accounting, to carpentry may be able to elevate these aspects of an ASC project to a level that is well beyond a given ASC organization’s usual capacity.
The types of support that a resource partner may provide can be as varied as the types of ASC projects that exist. Whatever the specific resource, discussing the capacities and needs of both (all) organizations in the partnership can help ensure that each organization gets what it needs to meet its goals and that there is a good relationship that can be built upon for future projects.
As ASC work has become established as a unique field, artists and organizations have begun to build networks and partnerships with their peers to help build capacity. These include networks with other ASC organizations, as well as with organizations that have similar mandates or serve similar communities. For example, the Youth Agencies Alliance in Winnipeg brings together 15 youth-serving non-profit organizations, including the long-standing community-engaged arts organizations Art City and Graffiti Arts. Peer networks offer a community where members can discuss possible collaborations and ways they can work together to increase efficiency or impact.
Peer networks have become particularly important for ASC artists and organizations working in rural and remote communities, as they can help to reduce costs and increase opportunities for training through resource sharing and collaborative projects.
Networks and partnerships with peer organizations can also increase knowledge exchange between practitioners. For instance, the Train of Thought brought together Indigenous and settler/immigrant artists and arts producers from across the country to use community-engaged art practices as a counter-colonial route to deconstruct and reconstruct Canada’s colonial past and present.
In the most integrated form of partnership, an ASC project or ongoing program involves collaboration amongst partners throughout all phases of the work. The partners work together to define the need and the scope of the ASC activity, to identify and secure required resources, to implement the program or run the activity, to evaluate the process and impact, etc. Partnerships for project development prioritize shared understandings of how each partner can best contribute to the work at hand. They require ongoing commitment from all of the partners, although a given partner’s contributions may be more, or less, centre-stage at different phases in the work.
Overall, though, the entire process is co-creative, as the partners seek to ensure that the planned work is aligned with each partner’s mandate and capacity, and that tasks are allocated based on each partner’s unique strengths and capabilities. In addition, because of the open communication and respect that exists in effective project development partnerships, the partners often look for ways to continue collaborating after the initial project has ended.
When ASC practitioners or organizations often partner with community-based organizations to address needs within the population served by the community organization, they will often form a partnership for project development. For example, an ASC practitioner who was developing a dance program with seniors worked collaboratively with a local seniors’ centre. Centre staff promoted the project through their established communications networks and ensured there were no scheduling conflicts with existing recreation programs, while the ASC practitioner developed and delivered the program itself. To make the program successful, the ASC practitioner and community centre staff had ongoing conversations about ensuring the dance program aligned with the needs of local seniors, as well as about ensuring each understood what the other was able to contribute to the work and hoped to see as a result of the work.
Our Partnerships Blog Series has focused primarily on the project development approach to partnership, as it is here that issues of relationship-building, shared language, power dynamics, and understanding each partner’s policies are likely to have the biggest impact on the success of the project.
Which form(s) of partnerships have you used most often? Why? Which have you found to be the easiest t set up and to maintain? Which have been the most valuable?
NEXT POST: In our next – and final – post in this series, we’ll wrap things up by stepping back to look at why partnering matters.