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Collaborate: fostering research-based partnerships between higher education and the cultural sector

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Ben Walmsley and Liz Harrop write about the opportunities our Collaborate fund offers for the cultural sector and academics.

We are excited about the launch of our new Collaborate fund. Brokering more meaningful, mutually beneficial research-based partnerships between cultural organisations and higher education institutions is one of the Centre’s core activities. The Collaborate fund offers us the perfect mechanism to support the development of collaborative research projects between the cultural sector and academic researchers and to enhance insights into cultural value.

Questions about the differences that arts, culture, heritage and screen-based activities make to people’s lives have come into sharp relief during the pandemic and our Covid-19 research has highlighted how the majority of the UK population equate cultural activities with their wellbeing. When other pastimes were stripped away by lockdowns and social distancing, everyday creativity flourished and cultural activities brought solace to people all over the world, offering moments of joyous escapism for cooped-up families and cementing fractured local communities.

The value of research
In this context, it is more important than ever to capture the impacts that cultural activities have on people through rigorous and meaningful research. This enables contextualised analysis and fosters the development of knowledge and understanding about cultural practice and the constructive roles that arts, culture, heritage and screen play in society. It also highlights their potential to rebuild empty towns and cities post-pandemic and address pressing issues of loneliness and isolation. But it highlights too the limitations and challenges inherent to this activity.

Our Collaborate fund will address these issues by funding new research: research provoked by the real world questions of the cultural sector and which breaks new ground through examining under-explored areas of cultural value and developing innovative research methodologies.

More than a funding programme
The Collaborate fund was always part of our plans for the Centre for Cultural Value and when we pitched the idea to cultural sector and academic partners in our consultation events, we had a very positive response – on the proviso that the process was light-touch, genuinely co-created. We ran a survey to test out our ideas for the scheme, where we heard that despite challenges such as differing timescales, academic language and IP ownership, there remained a strong desire for more (and better) partnership working between the two sectors.

For that reason Collaborate is more than just a funding programme, we have worked hard with our pilot project partners, Manchester Camerata and the Royal Northern College of Music to build a supportive structure and process that will help alleviate these concerns and facilitate productive and strong partnerships.

Why take part?
Cultural sector participants in the Collaborate programme will have an opportunity to explore an area of cultural value that is highly relevant to their practice, potentially adding new dimensions to that practice and helping them to communicate the impact of their work more effectively.

They will be supported to find the right academic partner and then to share ideas and experiences with these experienced researchers to open up new ways of thinking, enhance reflective practice and develop innovative research processes and partnerships that will last beyond the lifetime of the project. The programme also offers a professional development opportunity for those interested in developing knowledge and skills in collaborative research through skills sharing, active learning and access to a cohort of peers, workshops and learning resources.

Academics will be able to develop a new collaborative research partnership working on a live research topic with an engaged research partner. They’ll be supported in co-developing innovative research processes, piloting research activity with live audiences and testing existing methodologies in new contexts. And, of course, their research could also form the basis for future research publications, be cited as strong impact activity for future REF case studies and provide the foundation for externally funded research. In short, the fund offers a professional development opportunity for researchers at any stage in their career to develop their collaborative research skills and explore new ways to communicate research.

We are so committed to this funding that we have earmarked £200,000 of our five year budget to support it. We are excited to launch it, to witness the development of pioneering research projects into cultural value and to support the co-created research process along the journey.

Image: The Power of Our Ancestors. Tate Exchange. Dan Weill Photography

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