A new dawn for partnership working in the arts?

Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC, made headlines recently when he gave a speech at King’s College London announcing a new era of an ‘open BBC’. An integral part of this openness, he described, will be giving a new priority to partnership working. Hall mentioned the Get Creative campaign as an example of a recent success in this area.

In his speech, Hall responded to criticisms of the BBC’s track record in partnership working, saying ‘I believe the BBC has improved as a partner organisation’. Certainly under his leadership this issue is being highlighted and discussed in new ways. One initiative is a ‘Cultural Enquiry’ in this area, to be launched on 13th October. King’s College London has commissioned this report, in collaboration with the BBC, into ‘the role partnership plays in enabling publicly funded cultural institutions to enhance the quality and diversity of their work across the UK.’ The Cultural Enquiry defines partnership working as ‘a working relationship between two or more organisations in which both the risks and benefits are shared with the shared aims of delivering tangible benefits to the partners and the public.’ The zeitgeist, in this age of austerity, seems to be that working together is integral to survival for arts organisations. Watch this space for more details of the report after the launch.

Also noteworthy in Hall’s speech was a focus on ‘Britain’s great cultural institutions’. Hall mentioned organisations the BBC is currently working with, including the British Museum, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Science Museum. What the Get Creative research project can offer here is a perspective on the BBC’s partnership working with cultural organisations other than these ‘greats’. The eight stakeholder organisations who are running the campaign alongside the BBC, while great in vision and energy, have significantly less resources than the institutions Hall name-checks. The smallest organisations have only a couple of part-time staff. The challenges of partnership working with small-scale arts organisations are likely to be different from working with larger organisations. Smaller organisations may have more to gain, but also more to lose, through the kinds of partnerships the BBC is embarking upon.

One of the contributions the Get Creative research project will offer is a case study of this type of partnership working. However, we will not only be looking at how arts organisations work with the BBC, but also at partnerships between arts organisations within the campaign. One of the exciting aspects of the campaign is the involvement of the What Next? network which is bringing together arts organisations around the country into ‘chapters’ that hold regular informal conversations. At the same time as the BBC is working in partnership with the arts organisations in the campaign, these organisations are finding new ways to work together themselves, and there is a sense of possibility around the conversations that are being opened up through this.

Hall ended his speech by saying that ‘I know we have so much more to learn and so much more we want to do working in partnership with others’. The Get Creative research project will provide an insight into a different kind of partnership working, and will, we hope, open up possibilities for the BBC to enter into a broader range of partnerships in the future.

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