In any field, it's important to have a strong network of colleagues and collaborators. This is especially true in the arts and culture sector where, given the ever-changing nature of the industry, company leaders need to be constantly meeting new people and making new connections; it's the best way to stay on top of current trends and remain at the forefront of your field.
In addition, because so much of the work depends on creative collaboration, by nurturing your connections, you can help create a more supportive environment for the arts and culture sector as a whole.
Here are some ways to build and nurture your network of collaborative communities in the arts and culture industry:
1 - Join influential online communities
Online networks and communities are a great way to share your work and engage in discussions that set you up as an authority in your industry.
Engage in relevant discussions you find on different social media platforms, in forums, and in online groups and communities. Look for Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, and on other professional networking platforms. Become an influential leader in your social network by how you position yourself and how you respectfully share your thought leadership on critical issues in your industry.
You can have a significant impact on the people you engage with and the decisions they make. When you lead with your personal and organizational values, and respect other people's values, you create an environment where diverse perspectives can be shared and respected.
Some online communities that focus on arts and culture are:
Look for these types of communities on professional networking sites. They provide a space to discuss the business of arts and culture, connect with other professionals, and learn about new trends.
In order to make the most of online communities, you must be an active participant. Share your work, give feedback, and join the discussions. You never know who you'll meet or what new opportunities will come from it.
2 - Create or join an arts and culture coalition
An arts and culture coalition is a group of individuals or organizations who have joined together to advocate and advertise for the arts. By joining or creating an arts and culture coalition, you can pool your resources and make your voice heard on a larger scale. Some benefits of belonging to a coalition include:
- Amplifying your message by joining forces with other like-minded individuals or organizations
- Reaching a wider audience through the coalition's combined efforts
- Increasing your impact by working on larger projects
- Building relationships with other arts and culture professionals
There are many different types of arts and culture coalitions, so you can choose one that fits best with your organization and with your needs.
3 - Attend events with other arts and culture leaders
Many arts and culture organizations offer networking events specifically for leaders in the field. These events are convenient for meeting other professionals and discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the arts and culture sector.
Look for conferences, festivals, workshops, or any other type of gathering that brings together arts and culture professionals. Attending events and functions helps you gain valuable insights into current trends. These events are also great opportunities to meet new people, exchange ideas, and expand your network of contacts.
According to a study by the British Council (1), attending "showcasing" events - seasonal events and festivals - helped the artists involved make strong, productive connections. The benefits of attending these showcases included:
- Meeting with individuals or organizations that were "valuable to my work", both from the UK and from around the world
- Extending professional networks in a way that has had "tangible benefits for my work"
- Offering a good level of return for the resources (time and money) that were invested
Broadening your network of like-minded leaders of arts and culture organizations will help you find - and create - new opportunities of all types.
Some tips for making the most of these events:
- Arrive early and stay late. You'll have more opportunities to talk to people when there are fewer people around.
- Make a list of the people you want to meet and make a plan for how you will connect with them. Go in with a goal and stick to it.
- Be interested and interesting. Ask people about themselves and their work first. Then share a little about yourself and your work.
- Collect business cards, but also follow up with an email or social media connection within 24 hours. Mention something specific that you talked about to jog their memory of who you are.
- Take selfies. When you have a conversation that lasts longer than three or four minutes, just as you get to the end, ask if you can take a selfie photo together so you can remember the person to whom you are talking. Send it to them immediately by text, reminding them about who you are too. This is also a good way to get their cellphone number. Instead of following up by email, you can follow up within 24 hours by text; people are much more likely to pay attention to a text than to email.
4 - Share resources
By sharing resources with your professional networking community, marketing materials, performances, or even office space, you can help each other while also saving time and money. Sharing resources also shows that you are willing to collaborate and promotes a sense of community within the arts and culture sector.
The benefits of collaborating with other arts organizations may include:
- Growing your audience due to shared lists and advertising
- Receiving more positive reviews from an expanded audience
- Gaining more media attention because of the unique collaboration
- Increasing productivity when you can share tasks instead of duplicating them
- Bouncing ideas off each other, which improves creativity
It's not just arts and culture organizations that benefit from collaborating on resources. Individual artists who collaborate with each other can be more productive than those who work alone. Collaboration helps you develop more creative ideas and execute them more efficiently.
5 - Share your work online
With less and less government funding for the arts, it's more important than ever for arts and culture leaders to share their work with a wider audience. Share your work on your social media platforms, your website, and in online events.
For instance, a Harris poll (2) found that for Gen Z and young millennials about 56% passively learn about new music from the social platforms they use. Those that use the fastest-growing social media platforms are finding new music at even higher rates:
- 76% of Twitch users
- 73% of Snapchat users
- 70% of TikTok users
These platforms all use interactive, video-focused experiences that make it easy to create and share new music.
Arts and culture leaders in all areas of the industry can reach new audiences, connect with fans, and sell your work online faster, more easily, and more productively than offline. You can also reach new audiences and promote your work to a greater number of people.
6 - Promote each other's work
One of the best ways to build your network in the arts and culture industry is to promote the work of other organizations and artists. Because you may share either the same target audience, or related audiences, promoting each other's work helps each organization reach new audiences and grow its own business.
Promoting each other's work also signals that you are interested in collaborating and helps to create a sense of community within the arts and culture sector.
When you promote the work of others, you show that you are invested in the success of the arts and culture industry as a whole and committed to nurturing your professional relationships.
Some ways to promote the work of others:
- Share their work on your social media platforms
- Write blog posts about their work and link to it
- Invite them to collaborate on a project
- Participate in their events or projects
- Recommend them to your own network
When you promote the work of others, you create opportunities for yourself and give a boost to your industry.
7 - Get involved with local organizations
You can build key relationships with influential stakeholders by being active in your community, whether that is a suburban town or a large city. You get to meet new people in a variety of industries, giving you opportunities to collaborate creatively, even a little “outside the box”. These connections help you expand your audience and brand recognition, while making a difference in your community.
Some ways to be active in your community include:
- Volunteer at a non-profit close to your heart. If you have team members, give them some time off each quarter to volunteer too. Ideally, have a "volunteer day" for the team all in one place, wearing t-shirts with your organization's name on them. This builds camaraderie and brand recognition, as well as goodwill.
- Attend local events, both arts and culture events - of course! - and events outside your industry. Connect with people in a genuine way at every event, offering to do something for as many people as makes sense in your schedule. Don't just push your agenda; find out what they need and see if you can help them.
- Introduce people to each other. This sounds a bit like being a matchmaker; and it sort of is! Even if you can't help someone directly, if you know someone else who can, then you become valuable in the eyes of both parties. If you get good at doing useful introductions regularly, you'll become the go-to person for all sorts of things, including the very service or product you do offer. Make this easy for yourself by keeping detailed records of the people you meet.
- Sponsor local non-profits. This could include: the Boys and Girls Club; community fundraisers; the high school music and drama performances, and art show; elder services; or almost anything else you can think of.
Be committed to your community and intentionally build thoughtful relationships; the people of that community will become committed to you.
8 - Get involved with professional organizations
Joining a professional organization allows you to meet new people who have similar interests and learn about new opportunities. Examples include:
- League of Professional Theatre Women
- National Association of Independent Artists
- National Dance Society
- Association of Art Museum Curators
These groups can provide you with valuable resources, insights, and opportunities to connect with other professionals in your field of expertise, as well as in related fields. When several forward-thinking creative leaders get together, it's often amazing what sorts of collaborations come out of it!
In addition, many of these organizations offer educational programs and events that can help you stay sharp and up-to-date on current trends.
9 - Collaborate with other arts and culture organizations
Collaboration can take on many guises. You can co-sponsor events like performances, shows, or exhibits. You can collaborate on marketing and promotion initiatives. You can join forces to advocate for the arts and culture sector.
There are many ways to collaborate, and by doing so you will build new relationships and expand your network. Some tips for collaborating:
- Find organizations that complement your mission, not compete with it
- Be clear about what you can offer, and what you need from the collaboration
- Set expectations early on, and establish clear communication channels
- Be prepared to compromise
Artists often practice their craft alone, gaining mastery over many, many years. But sharing that artistry can’t be done in a vacuum; you need support, collaborators, and cheerleaders. As Steven J. Tepper (Arizona State University) says,
“Artists’ distinctive competencies include dealing with ambiguity, generating ideas, improvisation and prototyping, reasoning with analogy and metaphor, and telling compelling stories in multiple mediums. These things can be useful capacities for many fields.” (3)
Use your creative talents and gifts to collaborate with other leaders in the arts and culture landscape.
Never underestimate the power of networking
Networking is one of the most important things you can do for your career in the arts and culture sector. When you build a strong network of contacts, you gain access to new opportunities, resources, and insights. You also have support and advice when you need it.
The best way to build a strong network is to be genuinely interested in the people you meet and to find ways to help them, without expecting anything in return. By doing this, you'll not only build a network of contacts, but also create lasting relationships that will benefit both you and the people you meet and serve.
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