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Writing for CultureSource, assistant professor at the University of Michigan Jay Pension discusses the value of cross-sector partnerships in the arts.

Over the last decade, scholars and practitioners have increasingly recognized the value of cross-sector collaboration between arts-focused and non-arts-focused organizations. Cross-sector collaboration and the inclusion of the arts can enrich and transform practices within various sectors, fostering a culture of creativity and experimentation — a common feature in creative-placemaking. I intentionally use the term non-arts-focused organizations rather than non-arts organizations, because, often, the cross-sector collaborations can challenge the boundaries of how the arts can (and may already be) infused into the culture and outputs of what some might consider “non-arts” organizations.

The benefits of cross-sector collaboration with arts-focused and non-arts-focused organizations have been demonstrated in a variety of contexts. These include healthcare research and practice, education, tech companies, manufacturing, retail, government agencies, environmental organizations, financial institutions, senior and youth centers, community-based nonprofits, and more. Such multidisciplinary collaborations between diverse fields often lead to innovative projects that might not emerge when organizations operate within silos.

The following examples highlight successful collaborations between arts and non-arts-focused organizations. Out of Hand is an arts organization in Atlanta that partnered with the Georgia Department of Public Health to promote COVID-19 vaccine awareness, confidence, and access. Their collaboration resulted in more than 50 arts-based events, with more than 70% of participants indicating that they thought more deeply about vaccines.

Their collaboration resulted in more than 50 arts-based events, with more than 70% of participants indicating that they thought more deeply about vaccines.

Another recent example includes the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s collaboration with Google to create the first full-length theatre production designed to be experienced in virtual reality. Because of this collaboration, people worldwide could experience the play, including in classrooms — enhancing the reach of the theater and allowing Google to apply and experiment with their technology.

These collaborations sometimes allow for sharing of resources and expertise between organizations, fostering a more holistic approach to problem-solving. Organizations can tackle complex issues more effectively by pooling resources and combining creative thinking with practical solutions. Partnerships can lead to sustainable initiatives that continue to evolve and benefit communities long after collaboration has ended. The dialogue created by sharing resources and expertise helps to build stronger, more resilient organizations and communities. For example, in the 1990s, the Detroit Symphony collaborated with EDS Corporation, a technology company, to upgrade the orchestra’s systems. The orchestra received technological support and equipment, and EDS Corporation was able to develop its technology in a hands-on environment. The partners were able to learn from each other to enhance possibilities.

Perhaps most importantly, cross-sector collaborations change how people in both contexts see the world by providing access to different lenses. This shift in perspective can lead to a more empathetic and comprehensive understanding of societal challenges and opportunities. Cross-sector collaborations build bridges and assist in creating a culture of continuous learning. They are transformational for both organizations and their communities. Through new ways of thinking, cross-sector collaborations between arts-focused organizations and non-arts-focused organizations can improve community health outcomes – even in non-health-focused environments, inspire new business and social initiatives, and contribute to a richer and more inclusive cultural landscape.

Jay Pension
Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

About Jay
Jay Pension is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan in the departments of Entrepreneurship & Leadership and Theatre & Drama. He supervises the Performing Arts Management and Entrepreneurship minor. He is the co-author of a book on art engagement published by Oxford University Press. The book presents a new paradigm for arts marketing focused on engagement. He is the co-editor of the edited volume Business Issues in the Arts published by Routledge, which is used across the country in arts management classrooms. Over the past 15 years, Jay has worked as a producer on over 100 theatre productions in Boston, on Martha’s Vineyard, and in New York City. His producing work includes both for-profit projects and nonprofit arts leadership. From 2017-2023 Jay worked at Florida State University teaching courses in arts administration and theatre. He is currently the producer for Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston. He holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Salem State University, an M.F.A. (Theatre Management), and Ph.D. (Arts Administration) from Florida State University.