Creativity and diversity within cultural institutions: can partnerships help?

March, 20, 2019
Directors from the Royal Theatre and National Gallery in Denmark discuss the perks and pitfalls of working together

 

Kasper Holten and Mikkel Bogh have only officially started working together about six months ago when Holten became the new Director of the Royal Danish Theater. But they’ve known each other for quite some time: Holten was a member of the advisory board for the National Gallery of Denmark, where Bogh serves as Director. They had plenty of opportunities to discuss “how to deal with changes in society, achieve legitimacy, and face cuts year after year without compromising quality,” as Holten puts it. Could partnerships help tackle those challenges? Here’s what Holten and Bogh think.

 

9x9x9

The official partnership between the Royal Theater and the National Gallery started in 2014 with the 9x9x9 program. Inspired by the work of performing company Wenn es so weit ist at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, 9x9x9gathered nine Danish authors from the publishing house Gyldendal writing a total of nine texts — one each — inspired by nine works of art from the SMK’s collection. Each text was then performed for the public by nine actors from the Royal Danish Theatre.

 

 

 

Partnerships make you more creative

“A partnership is a new window onto the world which allows you to see how other people and institutions work, and how they deal with the same issues you are facing,” says Holten. Both Directors agree that partnerships are an opportunity to push your institution’s boundaries; to unite forces so you can surprise your audience and have them fall in love with you all over again. “I think we are all fundamentally fighting for the same things,” continues Holten “which is to keep people’s curiosity piqued in a society where entertainment opportunities are numerous.” To him, state institutions are under a new pressure to re-gain legitimacy and trust in the eyes of their audience; a legitimacy they used to possess de factoas “Royal” theatres, operas, museums and so on. Engaging on a partnership with another institution is a great way to look at your organization with fresh eyes.

 

…but not necessarily more diverse

Although increasing audience diversity was not an objective of the 9x9x9program, Bogh still mentions it as a flaw, or missed opportunity rather, of this previous partnership. “We love middle-aged women with higher education,” he says with a smile, “but they are not enough, especially considering that we are a public service institution.” 9x9x9was an extremely successful event that quickly sold out as people who were already engaged in one or the other institution swarmed in to experience theater, written words, and fine arts in new contexts. Partnering with a similar institution might get new people through the doors, but their demographics won’t differ from your existing audience’s. However, Bogh and Holten point out that seeking non-traditional partners would help diversify their audience, an option they are both considering.

Photo: SMK / Morten Germund

Cultural partnerships dos and don’ts

“Successful partnerships have one thing in common: people thinking about what they can give and learn rather than simply what is in it for them,” says Holten. For him, partnerships have evolved from merely exchanging one good for another, it is now more about ensuring that your identity and values fit your partner’s, that you can learn from each other and explore new opportunities together.

For Bogh, the crux of the matter is managerial buy-in and follow-up; Nathalie Bondil from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts made a similar argument in a recent interview.“A successful collaboration,” Bogh says, “happens when both institutions invest resources: money, but also time, staff, knowledge and faith.” The most recurring pitfall of creating partnerships is losing momentum, which usually happens when there is little or no managerial buy-in. Holten adds “As manager or director, you have to be clear that the partnership is not just an add-on but that it’s part of the strategy for the future, part of who you want to be as an institution.”


 

Join Kasper Holten and Mikkel Bogh at our upcoming Communicating the Arts conference in Copenhagen(June 17-19) to discuss successful partnerships, exchange best practices and informative failures, and meet like-minded art professionals.