Sustaining Partnerships

Sustaining Partnerships

When M/A partnerships produce positive results, municipalities and artists often want more opportunity. Part of creating such a partnership is thinking about how it can continue into the future.

Sustaining partnership work might take the form of:

  • Ongoing and regular opportunities for artists and municipalities to partner
  • An established program that supports the partnerships
  • A relationship between a particular municipal agency and a particular artist
  • A city agency’s way of delivering services, engaging community, and working equitably
  • Extending the impact of a particular project

Of course not all partnerships need to be forever— some partnerships are structured as one-time projects or time-limited initiatives. Partners need to consider whether and how sustainability is relevant to them, and plan for it at the very beginning of the relationship.

“Sometimes when a program ends, it leaves that hole behind. …you hate to bring in a resource and then not be able to have an opportunity for it to continue.” Ann Siegel, Roslindale Community Center, Boston AIR program

Here are five strategies that can help with planning and establishing a foundation for sustainability.

Create Buy-in and Ownership

Municipal government is cyclical, as major leadership and staff changes can happen after municipal elections. It’s important to have more than one champion within municipal government who can advocate for ongoing or new opportunities to integrate artists, secure resources, and build internal capacity. Joshua Silver of the Washington, DC Office of Planning recommends that you “seed and bleed this into [municipal] systems.” Strategies to build a municipal support system include:

  • Build relationships with agency leadership and staff, unions, management, and community task force/boards that work with local government. Cultivating career staff can help build a foundation of support given that political appointees and elected officials have limited terms.
  • Introduce other agencies to civically-engaged art and artists. Make it a point to invite staff across the municipality to public events, trainings, or internal meetings so they can experience the process and the artwork first-hand, and get a tangible sense of its possibilities and impacts.
  • Involve officials. Make sure that elected officials get regular updates about progress and outcomes. Invite them to experience or observe activities, and publicly and ceremonially recognize the impacts of artists and government working together, including announcements of major funding received. Watch this press conference to see how the Mayor, Chief of Police, and artists in Portland, ME publicly celebrated an important grant award.
  • Build demand. Listen for opportunities to connect partners and foster more allies.
  • Integrate partnership work into existing municipal programs, priorities, and mandates. Because Nashville’s Restorative Arts program was connected with the Juvenile Court, it was able to weather the end of the term of the mayor who initially funded the program.

Keep the Vision Alive

  • Dedicate, cultivate, and support “vision keepers” who communicate and translate the partnerships’ value and develop strategies for sustaining interest, ownership, and visibility both within municipal government and in the public eye.
  • Invest in successful, replicable elements. These can reinforce the compelling public good that is created through a partnership. A musical and photographic tribute to victims of gun violence created by Boston AIR artist Shaw Pong Liu has become an annual part of the City’s Mother’s Day March.
  • Find opportunities to continue M/A relationships after the project is over. Allison Orr and Krisse Marty of make a point to attend employee appreciation events; they show a documentary of an M/A project at city events; they invite city employees to participate on panels; and they have even created an alumni group of city participants and convene them once a year.
  • Involve community members in becoming stewards of the work. The late artist Jackie Brookner said about her stormwater retention project, “We don’t talk about maintaining a baby. We care for a baby. Changing diapers and feeding is care. Stormwater ponds are about caring for, not maintaining.”

Transition the Program to Municipal Leadership

When artists or third-party partners play a significant managerial role in a partnership, reliance on them may keep municipalities from taking initiative to coordinate, resource, and lead ongoing partnerships. There can still be an ongoing and important role for local arts agencies or nonprofit partners who can manage and expedite budgets, funding and contracts.

  • Plan for leadership transition from intermediaries or artists to municipal entities.
  • Set up systems to operationalize partnership policies and practices including:
    • Identifying and vetting municipal opportunities and readiness
    • Solidifying the role and responsibilities of the municipal liaison
    • Finding, securing, and working with artists
    • Documenting values, procedures, and key contacts
    • Institutionalizing accountability measures
    • Documenting what’s been learned from working with artists, including through regular reflection, and incorporating it into internal and external evaluation
  • Create a funding plan that lays the foundation for continued work.
“[City] departments...have systems that we’ve built with and for them where they can hire their own artists. The true role of an intermediary is to work yourself out of a job.” Amelia Brown, Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, Minneapolis

Build Artists’ Capacity and a Pipeline

Municipalities can only benefit from more artists becoming interested and skilled in civic work, especially if they represent the diversity of local communities and artistic disciplines. Supporting artists’ capacity to do work civically, and developing a pipeline to working with the municipality is key. Working in tandem with a Local Arts Agency or artist service organization can help municipalities achieve these goals.

  • Contract experienced artists to mentor other artists in the skills and sensibilities needed to work in an M/A partnerships. Experienced artists can be encouraged to include other artists into their budget to assist and learn by doing.
  • Offer training and workshops by experienced artists. These can be standalone workshops developed internally or with third-party partners, or they could be offered through existing artist professional development programs, or through local colleges and universities. These could be offered regularly and/or in advance of an upcoming opportunity.

Build Evidence of Positive Impacts

M/A partnerships have myriad positive impacts on municipalities and communities. Evaluating, documenting and disseminating these are an essential way to make the case to municipal leaders and funders for sustaining partnership work. Evaluation is a key part of this equation—you can learn more about how and why to evaluate partnerships here.These pointers will also help you in this work:

  • Identify the decision-makers within city government. Collect evidence that makes the case for M/A partnerships and present it to those leaders.
  • Remember that change happens over time. Many municipal goals require long-term work and commitment to create change. An M/A partnership can create pre-conditions for change. Document incremental changes during partnerships and, when possible, ripple effects and longer-term changes that result.
  • Publicize the projects widely. Communicate the value of M/A partnerships beyond immediate project stakeholders and in both cultural and civic circles.

evaluators, Rainbow Research, recommended that the City create this infrastructure to sustain the program:

  • Define what long-term commitment looks like for the City, including connecting the program across multiple departments, and adapting departmental practices and policies to facilitate the program.
  • Define what resources, support, and commitment from City leadership are needed to support this level of change and build an internal City structure for sustainability.
  • Encourage interested City departments to demonstrate readiness or willingness for change including a demonstration of ‘pre-work’ on race/racial biases, commitment of time and resources, and commitment from department leadership.
You can read their full report here.