Wednesday, 9 November 2016

APAC Study Day: In Good Company

APAC’s 2016 Study Day was held at The Lowry in Salford on the topic of working with partners. There were 18 attendees including 5 speakers, made up of members and non members.  Archives are increasingly working with partners, whether that is universities, funders such as HLF or art organisations, and this day was focussed on sharing learning around this topic and looking at some case studies in the sector.

The Lowry, Salford

Helen Roberts, Manager of the National Resource Centre for Dance at the University of Surrey began the day with a presentation on her experience of partnership working, which spans 20 years.  Over that time she has worked with a variety of funders and partners from arts organisations and individuals to Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and alumni funders.  Her advice was that you need to have a good reason to partner, whether that is to reach a new audience, innovate or to support you in delivering a new kind of project.  The importance of working with the right people and sharing a vision is integral to a successful partnership and Roberts advised that you create this relationship through extended planning and discussions before embarking on a project.  Each partner also needs to understand the aims and objectives of the others to ensure that the project will deliver what it set out to.  An interesting point that is frequently overlooked, is that project work tends to be on top of the work that you are already carrying out and so it is integral that project aims are realistic and deliverable.  It is all too easy to get carried away with fantastic ideas and creative plans.

Roberts had some practical advice for the group such as making sure that you have sight of the full budget so that you know where money is being allocated and to make sure that you can spot any shortfalls or misallocation of funds.  Another point was the importance of drawing up a partnership agreement or memorandum of understanding, which you can fall back on if something goes wrong.  It is also important to have a project manager, who has an eye on everything that is happening and can follow up on issues.

Some key take aways from this presentation were the importance of trust and respect for each other’s skills and competencies, shared values, communication between partners, agility and responsiveness, cost and time management and agreed marketing messages.  There are pitfalls to partnerships such as lack of flexibility, failure to deliver on commitments, poor management, bad communication and not working together.  If you manage to deliver a successful partnership project then you will open the way to further collaborations, working on new opportunities, increased profile, new audiences and the development of new skills and knowledge in your team.

Arike Oke, Rambert, introducing the day

I presented next Erin Lee with Eleanor Margolies, Jocelyn Herbert post doctoral research fellow.  Our presentation focused on the National Theatre’s partnership with University of the Arts London, which has developed as a result of the Jocelyn Herbert Archive being deposited at the NT Archive in 2014.  The NT has worked with UAL on the MA Curating and Collections course, which runs for a term and results in the students curating individual exhibitions at the Cook House in Chelsea.  Another course that the NT works with is the BA Theatre Design at Chelsea.  This is a two week module where the students have to respond to work in Jocelyn Herbert’s Archive and the outcomes of this module have been very varied and surprisingly morally, ethically and politically motivated.  The final relationship discussed was that of the Jocelyn Herbert post doctoral research fellowship, which began this academic year.  I gave an overview of the logistics behind setting this fellowship up and Eleanor expanded on her plans for the fellowship over the next two years.  Although this partnership is going well and will continue, there was a focus on the importance of collaboration, communication an d respect for each partner’s work and capacity.

After lunch we were given a tour of Perpetual Movement by the Gallery Coordinator at The Lowry.  This exhibition has been installed as part of Rambert’s 90th anniversary celebrations and brings together artist commissions and archive content.  The artist commissions were responding to Marie Rambert’s call for ‘perpetual movement’, which is referenced in her autobiography, notes from which are on display in the exhibition.  Each of the artists is interested in the concept of documentation and this ties with Mark Baldwin, Artistic Director of Rambert’s writing on dance being embodied in him physically and mentally.

Looking round the Michaela Zimmer room in the exhibition


The afternoon talks were led by Dr Helen Brooks, University of Kent. Brooks discussed her partnership with Theatre Royal Brighton around the staging of lost First World War plays and offered a brilliantly honest account of how partners plan a project and what obstacles might get in the way.  Picking on several of the things that Roberts had mentioned in the morning, Brooks discussed the important of being realistic with project plans and having the right people involved in the decision making.  Brooks and the Theatre Royal Brighton have now adapted their project to something more manageable and deliverable and it was the creative thinking of those involved that ensured that this collaboration was not lost.  An important learning point for Brooks was that collaboration can sometimes lead to people playing uncomfortable roles, which can cause stress or a breakdown in communication.  She would strongly advise face to face communication where possible and appreciate what people are comfortable doing.

Goshka Macuga room in exhibition

From one WWI partnership to another.  Kate Valentine, Director at DigitalDrama, discussed their Resurrecting theShakespeare Hut project in partnership with London School of Hygiene andTropical Medicine, HLF and the academic Dr Ailsa Grant Ferguson.  Valentine told us about the installation of the Shakespeare Hut replica lounge in the LSHTM building, which is now on display at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre.  The project had several outcomes including a centenary day re-enactment performance and an oral history project.  Valentine outlined the benefits of the partnership project from her perspective and these included the strength added to the application due to varied ideas and experience of partners involved, higher profile of the project, wider reach of professional networks, shared responsibility of success and reaching new audiences.  She advised that roles should be clear from the beginning particularly for the project manager and to play on the strengths of others and learn from them.  Her top tip was to think big and then rein it in to a realistic project.  A small project and group of people can be efficient but big projects are influential, both are worthwhile considering.

Costume from the Rambert Archive for L'Apres midi d'un faune

The last presentation of the day was from Simon Sladen, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Performance at the V&A.  Sladen talked us through the partnerships forged between the V&A and various schools, theatres and arts organisations, 18 in total, as part of the HLF Peter Brook Collection outreach activities.  This was the largest outreach project ever attempted by the V&A and, as an added challenge, none of the original project team were still in post as the project rolled out. The V&A hired a full-time project coordinator but Sladen noted that, if they were to run this sort of project again, they would build in more staff provision.  The main aim of the project was to develop links between cultural providers, improve relations with creatives in the performing arts sector, to increase awareness of Peter Brook among young people and ensure that his work is kept alive.  Sladen had some interesting reflections from his involvement in the project which included the importance of managing expectations, control, succession and legacy planning.  He also mentioned that having a dialogue with HLF is key and it was heartening to hear that he had found that teachers and practitioners love archives. 

There were many key themes that ran through the day, which I summaries here:
  • Needing to have the right people in your partnership.  Partnerships are nothing without the people
  • Communication, particularly at the planning stage, is key to progress
  • Knowing and acknowledging everyone’s aims and outcomes
  • Respecting and trusting others in the partnership

Everyone attending the Study Day had partnered to some extent or were considering doing so and the honesty of the speakers and those in the audience was a great way to have frank and insightful conversations about how to set up a successful partnership.  As was pointed out on several occasions, APAC itself is a fantastic way to network and meet potential partners and a huge thank you to APAC for facilitating this day!

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