Issue 49

Issue 49 Editorial

In issue 49 of Arts Research Digest, we ask how our sector is coping globally with economic cutbacks. Almost all the research we reviewed championed collaboration within and beyond the sector. While large institutions and 'national treasures' may attract scarce funding resources at the expense of smaller organisations (Who Pays for the Arts?), the latter are better placed to benefit from community ownership and local investment (Hidden Assets). So, which organisations are best placed to survive the current cutbacks?

The arts and cultural sector is ‘part of an interdependent cultural ecology’ (Recession and Recovery), recycling old growth to fertilise the new, fed by and feeding the social, political and economic matter that forms the rest of its environment. Those who question our sustainability miss the point; interdependent ecologies survive or fail together, as equal, active, agents, contributing to and forming to the life of the whole.

Partnerships minimize risk, extend reach, pool resources, and help to secure development funds (Recession and Recovery). They are also a step towards forming independent trusts (Outside In; Achieving Inter-Cultural Dialogue through the Arts and Culture). We may be more used to engaging competitively rather than collaboratively with other cultural organisations, but digital innovations are providing many opportunities for joint project development and relationship building (National Museums Working in Partnership across the UK). Can our policy framework keep up?

Digital platforms, by converging new technologies, are overriding policy domain boundaries (The Politics of Media and Cultural Policy). Attempts to shape new policy along traditional lines can result in confusion, duplication and waste. Academics are exploiting their 'outsider' status, and using Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) to counsel policy makers, particularly in the many areas 'that are being subsumed to a better articulated economic agenda' (The Politics of Media).

Many unofficial partnerships already exist and are widely recognised within the community (Creating a Better Life for Regional Australians; Literature Working Group Policy). In many cases, informal 'partnership working' with fellow institutions, universities, or other research bodies is long-established and difficult to quantify (National Museums Working in Partnership). Equally, most regional governments already have established collaborations on common interests and multilateral projects, and a strong evidence base is needed to bring these into ‘sharp focus’ nationally (Meeting Regional Culture and Sport Research Needs; Outside In).

Public participation creates a 'virtuous circle' between service providers and their communities (Beyond their Walls). This should not just be seen as a 'hidden resource', but the fundamental driver that decides the survival or failure of policies and systems. To reduce public participation to consultations, volunteering or donations, is to miss the point of our ‘social ecology’; the commissioning of public services must be community-led (Mass Localism; Role of Public Libraries in Suporting digital Provision; Meeting Regional Culture and Sport Research Needs). Service providers must 'presume community capacity' to contribute, rather than their incapacity and need for centralised decrees (Mass Localism; Role of Public Libraries). Local specialism and expertise should be treated as 'a valued resource’ to be ’shared nationally' (Meeting Regional Culture and Sport Research Needs).

Collective participation, group affiliation and collective action are the greatest draws of public support (Beyond Live; Understanding Sports Spectators' Motives for Attending Live Events). In contrast to the isolated, 'consumption on demand' ethos popularly associated with new digital media, digitalisation feeds into and supports this appetite for live, shared cultural experiences, as well as providing tools for production (Beyond Live).

The research covered in this issue analyses many different models of collaboration, between the public, private enterprise, public services and arts and cultural organisations. Objectives vary from increasing efficiency, development of products or services, widening reach or broadening provision, accessing new financial models and funding streams, increasing the sustainability and security of initiatives, re-positioning organisations within the sector, and responding to technological innovations.

As ever, we hope you find the reports featured here practical, prescient and inspiring.

Ann Winter


Arts Research Digest

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