Partnership as an Art Form

What Works and What Doesn't in Nonprofit Arts Partnerships

Dr. Thomas E. Backer

November 2002, 72 pages. Human Interaction Research Institute, 5435 Balboa Boulevard, Suite 115, Encino, CA 91316, 818-386-9137,

Partnership as an Art Form: What Works and What Doesn't in Nonprofit Arts Partnerships should be required reading for funders who are encouraging their grantees to work more closely together in these difficult economic times.

The report delivers exactly what its title promises in a clear, concise easy-to-read format that provides a framework to use in evaluating funding requests for partnerships as well as in deciding when it is appropriate — and when it is not — to encourage those partnerships.

The report was prepared as a working paper for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and is divided into four sections: How to Think about Partnerships, Roster of Arts Partnerships, Lessons Learned about What Works and What Doesn't, and What Does this All Mean — for Arts Organizations, Communities, Funders, Evaluators and Researchers. Information and conclusions are based on a review of literature and research, an “environmental scan” of more than sixty existing partnerships, and interviews with “thought leaders.”

The first section provides an overview of relevant research and publications and discusses the structure, characteristics, life cycle, and challenges of partnerships. The second provides brief summaries of several dozen partnerships across the country, organized under eleven major purposes or content themes. These categories range from facility development to arts marketing, the latter a particular interest of the Knight Foundation.

The “lessons learned” section is organized according to ten life cycle stages of partnership — beginning with deciding to partner and ending with promoting sustainability. The final section draws implications for arts organizations, communities, funders, and evaluators from the study's findings. A bibliography of resources is also provided.

Deena Epstein, The George Gund Foundation