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Creative Partnerships: Strategies for Collaboration

Posted by Shannon Litzenberger

A new generation of arts development calls for new conversations about how to engage stakeholders and cultivate resources to support artistic activity. It’s clear that as public investment dwindles relative to industry growth, the future success of arts enterprises will include seeking new creative partners in the private sector by building relationships based on shared values and mutual goals.


Exploring national and international models of partnership, collaboration, and investment across the arts and business sectors formed the basis of a day-long symposium held late last year in Toronto.


Creative Partnerships: Connecting Business and the Arts brought together 100 leaders from across the arts, business, and public sectors to consider how we can build new capacities within our respective industries through creative collaboration. Hosted jointly by the Metcalf Foundation, Business for the Arts, the ASO Learning Network, the Manulife Centre, and the Canada Council for the Arts, Creative Partnership brought into focus a host of examples and opportunities aimed at increasing private sector engagement in the arts.


One of the day’s early highlights was a report on the performance of Canada’s new and quickly expanding program artsVest™. A flagship initiative at Business for the Arts, artsVest aims to help broker new relationships between arts organizations and business sponsors. With invested funds from the federal government, as well as participating provincial and city partners, the national initiative provides matching grants, free sponsorship training workshops, as well as community building and networking events that catalyze cross-sector partnerships.


Since it’s launch in 2011, the program has provided 123 cultural organizations with artsVest matching grants that have leveraged close to $2 million in new private sector investment. Participating cultural organizations partnered with 461 businesses, of which 320 were first-time business partners and 134 were long-term sponsorships.

With similar goals of increasing private sector engagement in the arts, Australia Council for the Arts CEO Kathy Keele spoke about their Artsupport programs, which focuses on growing philanthropic support primarily for small- to mid-sized arts enterprises with annual budgets of under $1 million.


Managed by the Australia Council for the Arts, Artsupport has facilitated over $77 million in philanthropic income for over 200 artists and 600 arts organizations in Australia for a government investment of just over $5 million. To achieve such exceptional results, Artsupport works with both arts and philanthropic sector players including individual artists and arts organizations, as well as individual philanthropists, and private and corporate foundations to encourage new donor support for the arts.


Another highlight included a rare opportunity to dialogue with some of Canada’s top corporate giving executives. Representatives from Telus, Scotiabank, KPMG, and Manulife Financial articulated other pathways to engage with large corporations beyond making an application for sponsorship through corporate head office. For small and mid-sized organizations, corporate support may be more aligned at a local branch or office through volunteer engagement programs or locally available community development funds.


Scotiabank, for example, will match up to $1000 per employee per year if he or she volunteers at least 50 hours of time to a local charity. At KPMG, employees are required to contribute volunteer service to charities that match their interests and are evaluated on their engagement.  Many noted that their Corporate Social Responsibility focus is shifting toward more local, community-based activities.


Guest speakers and young corporate professionals Stephen Delaney and Bradley Powell offered insight into the needs of a new generation of arts patrons. They spoke about how they wish to be more directly engaged in supporting creative activity beyond simply donating money. They noted large organizations offering high-profile parties and exclusive social events in exchange for high costs institutional memberships might not be able to provide a young corporate professional with a meaningful engagement as a new patron. While social opportunities are not unwelcome, many young professionals want to take a more hands-on approach to supporting the arts, satisfying a need to make a tangible and attributable impact on the work or career of an artist or arts organization.


For Delaney and Powell, their solution was to create the CreatiVenture Collective—a new patron-driven movement for young professionals who want to support the arts. CreatiVenture connects small arts organizations with the support of businesses and young patrons to enable their growth as both artistic producers and entrepreneurs.

The Collective makes one-time investments designed to boost the audience and sustainability of artists, while engaging arts patrons at a fundamental, hands-on level. These new patrons may have less cash to offer than their senior colleagues, but have the ability to complement their dollars with other valuable resources such as their personal skills and expertise as well as access to their networks and influence among their peers and colleagues.


Creative Partnerships offered a host of new ideas, models, anecdotes, and initiatives that are forging new pathways to success. For any given community, the path to change will not be a singular one and it will include adaptations and innovations in the public and private sectors as well as changes in the working practices of the artist themselves. As we move forward, it is our task to embrace change, engage our creativity to find innovative solutions, be prepared to learn from our experiments, and remain determined not to fall prey to the comforts of the status quo.


*This article was originally posted on ARTSBlog.

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