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To compete, the arts need to collaborate

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November 24, 2016 23:20

Competition can be bad for business and charities - if the focus becomes "beating" others, the losers can be the intended beneficiaries. When organisations wake up to the power of collaboration, it can give access to new markets, facilitate more ambitious projects, and prevent wastage from duplication in areas such as administration and leadership. Competition is not always bad, but even more can often be achieved through collaboration or consolidation.

As the new chairman of the Barbican Centre Trust, I am experiencing this at first hand. The Barbican, in the City of London, is at the centre of a hub of leading cultural organisations enjoyed by millions of people every year; it includes the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Museum of London. What I find fascinating is the way they are increasingly working together not only to enhance the cultural experience but to maximise the return on funds raised. The power of this combined group, as a cultural hub, has been recognised and is being actively supported by the City of London Corporation; it will also be enhanced when it finds itself at the heart of Crossrail in 2018.

So why is this relevant to those outside the City, particularly in the wake of the merger talks between the JW3 arts organisation and the London Jewish Cultural Centre? In my opinion, there are three key reasons why charities and arts groups would benefit significantly from collaboration and why this is something that their trustees should be focusing on.

Firstly, reducing administrative costs - the Barbican collaborates with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, sharing a chief operating and financial officer and an HR department.

Secondly, together, organisations can have a greater impact - the Barbican recently joined forces with its arts cousin across the river at the Southbank Centre. The conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, and his orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, are marking his 60th birthday with a residency across both centres. The organisations' development teams are fundraising together, pooling contacts, for the concerts and to create a new Young Orchestra for London, mentored by Sir Simon which will perform during the residency.

The Barbican and Guildhall School also ensure they have the greatest possible impact by operating a joint creative learning programme; this pioneering cultural alliance between an arts centre and conservatoire is transforming 21st-century creative learning in east London, using the combined talents of two organisations.

Thirdly, it can deliver returns which would otherwise be unattainable. Just over the road from the Barbican, is Milton Court, the Guildhall School's new building, an example of how business can collaborate with the arts to achieve its corporate goals. The development of 284 luxury apartments at The Heron, the largest new residential development in the City of London for 30 years, was possible thanks to an innovative tripartite collaboration; this was between Gerald Ronson's Heron International, the City of London who owned a prime piece of land, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, who urgently needed additional training and performance space. Heron paid for construction costs of the Guildhall School's world-class facilities including a new 608-seat concert hall in exchange for the granting of a long lease for The Heron, and the City of London regenerated an otherwise unused area, providing the cultural landscape with a stunning new venue. Such a model of collaboration could benefit many property developers and provide much-needed facilities around the capital.

A key area of collaboration I am focusing on in my Barbican role is to get business to understand more the power of collaborating with the arts. The City's support for a charitable organisation like the Barbican (a cultural oasis in the heart of the City), can reward its employees, and deliver on Corporate Social Responsibility commitments while still having a fantastic time entertaining clients and contacts. One of the joys of the Barbican is that there is truly something for everyone - classical and contemporary music, art gallery, theatre and cinemas. When a company becomes a corporate member, it is not just a few directors who benefit but every employee; and individual patrons really do feel very much part of the Barbican family.

With the substantial cuts in public funding that every organisation across the country faces, it is my belief that collaboration or consolidation is the vital ingredient for success and that this is something that charity trustees should be more actively considering. It isn't about giving up your own identity it is just about achieving your potential.

To quote Charles Darwin: "It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."

November 24, 2016 23:20

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