Dave Moutrey, What Next? North West and HOME, talks about why collaboration is as important as ever.
In the late 1980’s I was running a small theatre in North Manchester at the Abraham Moss Centre that presented small scale touring shows, supported the FE college curriculum and made community theatre productions. At the time arts funding was under a great threat due to cuts to local authority budgets, cuts to the Arts Council and general economic stagnation. Sound familiar? At that time we needed to increase our earned revenue from tickets sales and other income streams. There was an industry wide realisation that we needed to move on from doing ‘publicity’ and start to do ‘marketing’, the death knell of the hanging card had been struck. The problem was that we could not afford Saatchi and Saatchi and they were busy working for the government anyway. However, we had noticed that arts organisations in Cardiff had formed an arts marketing consortium, a cut down cut price shared marketing services agency. This level of cooperation between arts organisations was pretty unusual then and in many locations still is.
The Arts Council at that time seemed to think this was a good model and put money on the table for groups of arts organisations that wanted to form their own arts marketing consortia.
In Manchester a local commercial advertising agency working with city centre based arts organisations had been pulling together a monthly listings for arts organisations. We didn’t have Time Out in our city and this is well before the Internet and Worldwide Web. Arts About Manchester as the listings leaflet was known was the only place to find out what was going on. Through necessity theatres, galleries, concert venues and museums were collaborating in Manchester as part of their survival strategy. We spotted that opportunity presented by the Arts Council and formed Arts About Manchester Ltd, an arts marketing cooperative. This required large commercial businesses like Manchester Theatres Ltd to work together with small community not-for-profits like the Abraham Moss Centre, visual arts organisations to work with theatres, cinema to work with museums. The genie was out of the bottle, from that point collaboration became part of the modus operandi for arts organisations in Manchester. Something similar happened in Liverpool and Newcastle.
Part and parcel of my job working in the arts involves some travelling in the UK and abroad meeting and talking to artists and colleagues working in arts organisations. I am not surprised to learn that what we do in Manchester is happening in many successful places, I have already mentioned Northern Powerhouse cities of Liverpool and Newcastle, but not common practice everywhere. Colleagues ask me if I am worried about the ‘competition’ that the proposed new venue the Factory will bring to HOME. Well actually I’m not. I’m not worried because I will be working with in the sector in Manchester to make the most of the opportunity. I know this will happen because it is what we do. Arts About Manchester is no more, it has merged with Audiences London to become the Audience Agency. However, that spirit of collaboration is underpins the approach of the cultural sector in Manchester when we are looking to find new solutions to nutty problems.
When I first heard about What Next? I realised that others were thinking creatively about how to collaborate and create a movement to put the case for the arts to government and the wider public. Following my experience in Manchester it seemed natural to get involved. What I have found is a level of collaboration fully rooted in common purpose rather contracts or membership rules. This is exciting and having positive results. Collaboration is increasingly important to successful organisations. If you are not doing it I would recommend that you start soon.
“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin