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Brokering new relationships and partnership working

  • Date: 2 February 2011
  • Artform: None
  • Area: South East
watercolour of park Studio Weave, 2010, Photo courtesy of Studio Weave

The Arts Council's role as a development agency is just as crucial as its role as a funder. We play a key role in identifying and nurturing partnerships with organisations that can help us get great art to everyone. 

Richard Russell, Director, Strategic Partnerships, says: 'We work across England to broker relationships between artists, arts organisations and other public and private sector bodies, levering in new money for the arts, and creating new opportunities for communities to engage in the arts. 

'This brokerage role is critical to developing new opportunities in the arts, especially in places where evidence suggests that engagement in the arts is low.'  

In the south east the priority places are North Kent, East Kent, Thames Gateway, Medway Portsmouth, Southampton, and Milton Keynes. 

Working behind the scenes

'We're often working behind the scenes, either working in partnership with agencies to support and strengthen the arts infrastructure regionally, or we're brokering relationships between organisations to work together,' explains Jon Pratty, Digital and Creative Economy Relationship Manager. 

Jon recently brokered a relationship between the Arts Council England regularly funded organisation Lighthouse, a leading film and digital arts agency, and Brighton digital design company Clear Left

Since 2010, the two organisations have been working together to produce a new digital season that will bring together digital artists with web developers. 

Their 2010 pilot project was digital art exhibition Suspending Disbelief, which formed part of Clear Left's major digital design conference dConstruct

This year their programme includes planned interventions at dConstruct in September and a digital arts symposium, to take place a few weeks after. The work is supported through £50,000 from our development funds, which are strategic funds to help the Arts Council achieve its aims. 

Jon says: 'By partnering niche cultural organisations, we're mixing audiences and bringing people together. That's a good reason to partner organisations: to create something new in the middle.'

New opportunities

By working with others locally and brokering relationships to come up with solutions, sometimes we develop great new opportunities. 

This was the case when Thanet District Council started talking to the Arts Council and English Heritage about how to sustain the cultural regeneration of the town - and from that, an interesting partnership project emerged. 

Margate Arts, Creativity, Heritage (MACH) was launched in 2010, with the aim of using Margate's rich history and much loved heritage buildings to support the growth of the creative industry. 

This included the four-day Heritage Open Days last September attracting over 700 people. Historic sites like Dreamland, Margate Museum, the town's former police station and Tudor House were venues for one-off events such as exhibitions, pop-up shops, open days, tours, talks, live music and arts events. 

Sophie Jeffrey, Project Manager, MACH says: 'The project responds directly to the local conditions and opportunities in Margate and shows how, by working in partnership, national organisations can contribute to the Localism Agenda.'

'The long-term plan is to secure more live and work space for artists in Margate - protecting and investing in its heritage at the same time.'  

Stephanie Fuller, Senior Manager, Regional Planning explains: 'The project came out of the cultural regeneration work that we were already doing in Margate. As well as having our investment in Turner, we also wanted to nurture the creative community in Margate and support local people and assets.'

Dr Andy Brown, Planning and Development Regional Director, English Heritage, says: 'Our partnership with the Arts Council in Margate has opened up a completely new dialogue with the community and how they feel about their historic environment. It's been very exciting to explore all sorts of news ways of working, and I'm sure there are other places where the lessons will be applied to great effect.'  

Creative innovation

A similar example of creative innovation through partnership working is Artlands North Kent, which links public art and the environment in North Kent and Thames Gateway. 

Stephanie says: 'There is not a lot of infrastructure in the area and using public art seemed like a good approach. A connection was brokered with Greening the Gateway Kent and Medway, a partnership of private and public sector bodies and charities. 

'Their objectives were to increase the use of open spaces, healthy living, and improving green spaces, and they knew art could be a vehicle for meeting these.'

A feasibility study for the work was initially supported with £10,000 from our development funds in 2009. 

Artlands North Kent is supported with a £97,000 Grants for the arts award and combines economic development, audience development, and the natural environment. The project will see three new commissions in 2011. 

Fiona Boundy, Curator, Artlands, says: 'We are thrilled to be working with artists Heather and Ivan Morison on a commission for Milton Creek, in partnership with Swale Borough Council and Art and the Centre. Their initial ideas explore the possibility of occupying the sky above the unique natural landscape of the creek. 

'Our commission with Dartford Borough Council and Studio Weave will be one of our most ambitious and sees a unique partnership of the local authority, Artlands and a number of other stakeholders.

'The third commission will be part of the Cyclopark development in Gravesend. This is a challenging and complex commission, and we are very excited about the role the commission can play in establishing an identity for the Cyclopark and encouraging local community engagement.'

Richard Russell says: 'The Arts Council brings its arts expertise, contacts, and new creative ideas to developing places and local economies. This is complemented by our investment, which enables us to back up our advice and guidance with new investment, offering leverage for local partners, enabling their money to go further.' 

This is true in the case of Artlands

Fiona says: 'Partnership working has enabled ambitious works to be realised by ensuring that artists are offered a strong level of support and guidance.'  

'Partnership working has also helped us leverage extra resources. For example the Artlands commission in Dartford secured extra support from Kent County Council towards the commission.' 

Richard Russell adds: 'Working in partnership will be more important than ever before. With massive constraints in public funding, it will be increasingly important for partners to work together to maximise the impact of our collective resources.'