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Cultural Collaborations

Building Partnerships for Arts Participation

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Document date: January 01, 2003
Released online: January 01, 2003

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.


About This Study

Strengthening Cultural Participation through Partnerships
Expanding Programming through Partnership
Engaging New Audiences
Engaging Artists through Partnership
Engaging Donors through Partnership
Expanding Organizational Networks and Relationships


Types of Partnerships
Partnerships between Large and Small Organizations
Cross-Ethnic Partnerships
Venue-Related Partnerships

Sustainability of Partnerships


Appendix: The Partnerships




Since 1997, the Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds have awarded nearly $9.5 million in grants to 10 community foundations to strengthen local participation in arts and culture across the United States. This five-year initiative, Community Partnerships for Cultural Participation (CPCP), extends the Funds' ongoing work to help build committed and engaged audiences for the arts.1 The Funds commissioned the Urban Institute to examine efforts to build arts participation in the communities supported by the initiative. This monograph explores how cultural organizations in the CPCP initiative used partnerships to enlarge participation in myriad ways and for multiple constituencies. Drawing on personal interviews, grant applications, and reports, it examines the experience of CPCP participants, guided by the following questions:

  • In what ways did partnerships among cultural organizations strengthen participation?
  • Why and how did partnerships help strengthen participation?
  • Whose cultural participation was strengthened through partnership?
  • What types of partnerships proved beneficial to enhancing participation?
  • What were the major challenges and obstacles of using partnerships to build participation?
  • How can cultural organizations and their supporters employ partnerships more effectively to strengthen participation?

Partnerships proved to be an effective tool for enhancing participation in varied and sometimes surprising ways. Yet the most significant benefits of partnerships often were unanticipated, while intended goals often were not achieved. The overarching lesson here is that partnership offers a powerful tool for strengthening participation—but both grantmakers and grantees need to better recognize its possibilities and limitations so that it can be used more effectively. Sometimes, partners missed opportunities to use partnerships' full potential to enhance participation. At other times, partnerships experienced overly high or misplaced expectations. Moreover, while cultural organizations and funders alike value partnerships, grantees often felt that grantmakers did not always support partnerships in a realistic way that responded to their needs.

Although partnerships rarely endured beyond the life of the grant, most grantees felt they had achieved at least some of their goals, and at least half reported warm relations and ongoing contact of some type with their former partners. The study results outlined in this monograph should help cultural organizations, funders, and others who seek ways to strengthen cultural participation and collaboration to use partnerships more effectively.

About This Study

Various terms "alliance," "joint venture," "collaboration," "strategic restructuring," "partnership," and others — have been used to describe cooperative behavior among organizations, but so far, no common terminology has evolved (Kohm et al. 2000). As used here, "partnership" means a coordinated collaboration between two or more parties to achieve a common goal. In principle at least, each participant also commits resources, such as financial assets, organizational capacity, public image, and constituency characteristics (Walker et al. 1999, 2). Resources brought by cultural organizations to partnerships in the CPCP initiative included:

  • connections to, and understanding of,a target audience (e.g., ethnic, geographic);
  • connections to artists;
  • administrative expertise;
  • artistic expertise;
  • volunteers' time;
  • fundraising and financial capabilities;
  • space in which to present cultural activities; and
  • overall knowledge, experience, and/or information that was needed, but not possessed by, other organizational partners.

"Cultural participation" is defined here in abroad way that includes the CPCP initiative's multiple goals of "broadening, deepening, and diversifying" participation: engaging more of the same types of people in cultural activities, deepening the experiences of those already engaged,and engaging new groups of people (see McCarthy and Jinnett 2001; Moore 2001). It encompasses engaging people in multiple forms and roles, such as creators of culture, audience members, donors, and volunteers. Importantly, in the case of partnerships, it also includes the ways in which organizations strengthen their own capacity to create, provide, and preserve cultural services, artifacts, and traditions.

This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

1. For this and additional information on the CPCP initiative, see the Wallace Foundation web site, www.wallacefoundation.org.

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