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Community and Arts Collaborations That Cultivate Exciting Change

by Rolling Stone Culture Council /

Arts and culture organizations play a unique and important role in our society. Such organizations are where people come together to experience the joy of creation and imagination, where we learn about other cultures and ways of life, and where we get to celebrate our common humanity.

Even more importantly, arts and culture organizations depend on each other and our communities in order to thrive. The arts bring a lot of joy to many people, and we need each other in order to share that joy with the broadest audience, so we can create the most impact. 

Networking and building relationships are crucial activities for success. By developing a strong network of connections, you can share resources, ideas, and opportunities with each other. By nurturing relationships with community partners, you can help build bridges between the arts and culture sector and the wider community. And by working together, leaders in the arts and culture sector can help create a more vibrant and creative society that benefits everyone.

Benefits of interdisciplinary community collaboration

By working both with community organizations and with other arts and culture organizations, you help build support for the arts and culture sector as a whole. And by collaborating with other sectors, you can help create a more well-rounded, exciting, and livable community.

When done right, collaboration can lead to:

  • Greater understanding of and appreciation for different cultures
  • A more vibrant and creative society
  • A more livable community
  • Improved economic development
  • Higher student achievement and success
  • Graduates who are more highly qualified and productive when they enter the workforce
  • A more cohesive and connected community culture

Supporting the arts clearly has an impact on the people who attend concerts, plays, art shows, and schools of art. In addition, working artists and musicians - who thrive when they have an audience - can also continue to pay their bills, contribute to the community, and take care of their families.

The best way to achieve all these goals is to encourage collaboration between and among artists, and the communities in which they live and where they serve.

Leaders of different organizations need to work together to meet the needs of their communities. Different organizations have different strengths and weaknesses, and by working together, you can build on each other's strengths - and cover for each other's challenges - to create a more effective network.

Identify community needs

Begin by surveying and polling local leaders to determine how your organization can best meet the needs of your community. Reach out to hospitals, schools, town government, elder care facilities, youth facilities, and houses of worship. Ask questions such as:

  • What are the most pressing issues facing the community?
  • What resources does the community currently have to address these issues?
  • Who are the most influential leaders in the community?
  • What partnerships or collaborations already exist in the community?
  • What gaps exist in the community that your organization can fill?

Build relationships

Next, identify stakeholders and potential partners. They may include:

  • Non-arts organizations like banks and other companies who may already be working as partners in different ways
  • Arts and culture organizations like a local band or orchestra, a visual artist collaborative, galleries, arts and performance venues, etc.
  • Schools
  • Charitable community organizations like the Knights of Columbus
  • Human services organizations
  • Government service providers that address community health, youth development, and public health initiatives
  • etc.

Which of these organizations are already in cross sector partnerships? What issues are they addressing? How successful are those partnerships? How might you either join a working partnership or invite others to begin to work with you?

It is also important to develop relationships with individual leaders within the community, including arts groups, local artists, and non-artistic community leaders. These leaders may be influential in politics, education, business, or other areas. They may also have a personal interest in the arts.

Get to know these leaders and discover what motivates them. What are their goals for the community? What are their passions? How can you work together to achieve mutual goals?

By developing relationships with key leaders in the community, you can help build support for the arts and culture sector.

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Work together

Next, hold a meeting with representatives from different organizations to discuss the needs of the community and how you can best meet those needs. Brainstorm ideas and come up with a plan of action. You may want to form coalitions or create new programs or services that address the community's identified needs.

Some things you may want to consider:

  • How can the arts address obvious needs?
  • Where might a creative’s mindset or "eye" or "ear" be able to fill "holes" within the community? (For example, if there aren't currently enough after-school activities in town, that's a "hole".)
  • How can you better promote the arts in the community, especially as a way to bring together different constituents?
  • What art projects, events or programs can you put on to engage the community?
  • How can you partner with other organizations to provide resources or services?
  • How can you raise awareness of the importance of the arts and culture sector?
  • What are some "lessons learned" from previous collaborations that can inform future projects?

It is also important to keep in mind that relationships need to be nurtured and maintained over time. Regularly communicate with your collaborative partners and keep them updated on the latest news and developments. Be open to feedback and be willing to make changes to your plans based on input from your partners. By working together, you can create a more vibrant, tolerant, and creative society.

Examples of interdisciplinary community collaboration

There are many ways for arts and culture organizations to connect with your communities. For example, an arts organization might partner with a local business to create a new public art installation. Or a group of artists might work together to put on a community art fair.

Other collaborative ideas include:

  • Creating a community garden
  • Organizing a neighborhood cleanup day
  • Putting on a free concert in the park
  • Holding art shows for the community
  • Starting a local band for all the former (from elementary school) flute and trumpet players so they can experience the joy of making music in community
  • Awarding prizes for visual or performing artists in the schools and among community members
  • Painting a mural in a public space
  • Working with a local school to create an after-school arts program
  • Teaching children how to write their own cantatas based on their personal experience of the immigration crisis
  • Developing a community-based theater production that addresses social issues
  • Creating a film festival that showcases local talent

The possibilities are endless!

These are just a few examples of how arts and culture organizations can collaborate with other organizations to make a difference in their communities. By working together, you can boost community engagement, enhance community development, create positive change and build strong relationships within your community.

It is important to remember that partnerships should be mutually beneficial. All partners should feel like they are getting something out of the collaboration. By working together, arts and culture organizations can have a positive impact on the communities you serve over the long term.

Arts and culture leaders play a vital role in connecting people and ideas. By creating opportunities for networking and collaboration, you help build strong relationships between artists, cultural organizations, and the communities where you live and serve. In today's connected world, it is more important than ever for arts and culture leaders to nurture these connections. By doing so, you can create new opportunities for creativity and understanding.

A community is only as strong as the relationships between its members. When arts and culture organizations nurture connections between and among yourselves and your communities, you help create a more vibrant, creative, and tolerant society. By working together, we can build a better world for everyone.