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Collaborate – the matchmaking phase

A large board has text that reads: "369. Is the world how you imagined?" In the foreground people are moving cables and working on the stage.

Image credit: Quarantine, 12 Last Songs at Transform Festival, 2021. Photo: David Lindsay

Liz Harrop and Lisa Baxter write about our newly launched Collaborate fund, and how ten shortlisted organisations have been matched with academic researchers.

In October last year, we launched our new research fund – Collaborate. Our core aim at the Centre is to deepen understanding of the differences culture makes to people’s lives and to communities. We believe that research is a vital part of enhancing insights into cultural value, and through Collaborate we are supporting research partnerships between cultural organisations and academic researchers to do just this.

Collaborate aims to fund new research partnerships that are activated by the real world questions of the cultural sector, and that also examine under-explored areas of cultural value and start to develop new methodologies.

Shaping the fund
Before launching the fund we consulted widely with the cultural sector and started a pilot project to test our processes. As a result of what we heard, we developed a light-touch ‘expression of interest’ application for the cultural sector and a similar process for academics to respond to a shortlist of proposals from cultural organisations.

We also built in plenty of time for the cultural organisations and practitioners who were successful in the first stage to select an academic to work with, along with the space to build their nascent partnership ahead of submitting a joint application to the fund in May 2022.

An appetite for research
We had a hunch that there was a strong appetite for this fund, but given the stark impacts of the pandemic on the cultural sector, we weren’t sure how many would be in a position to make a research collaboration a priority. We were delighted when we received 183 expressions of interest from cultural sector organisations and practitioners – if anything, questions about the differences that culture makes to people’s lives have come into sharp relief during the pandemic and this was evident in the applications.

Difficult choices and matchmaking
Our selection panel had the challenging job of whittling down the applications to a shortlist of 10 exciting project proposals that cover a wide range of cultural activities and research objectives.

Academics were then invited to respond and to express their interest in working with one of the ten proposed projects, and we received 56 applications. These were shortlisted and shared with the ten cultural organisations who embarked on a series of exploratory conversations to identify their best academic match.

Our thanks go to all the cultural sector organisations and academics who applied to the scheme, and special thanks to our independent panel members Lara Ratnaraja and Dr Roaa Ali for their time and expertise in the process.

More than just funding
You can read more about the ten proposed projects and their academic research partners below. All are now working together in an exploratory phase to develop a full application to the Collaborate fund.

We will announce the first Collaborate cohort (those who will receive the full funding to work together for 12 months) in early June.

Collaborate has developed to be much more than just a funding opportunity. We’ve built in learning and development opportunities throughout the process, and the time and space to broker meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships. Although we will not be able to fund all ten projects, we hope that everyone who has taken part in this process is fired up by the potential of research and able to find other sources of support to make their project happen.

The Collaborate fund will be open again for expressions of interest in November 2022.

The projects in development

1. Artichoke Trust with Jacek Ludwig Scarso, The School of Art, Architecture and Design (AAD) at London Metropolitan University

Artichoke produce mass outdoor events and want to explore why outdoor art matters and to rethink how we capture the effects of mass cultural gatherings.

Artichoke is working with Jacek Ludwig Scarso, who specialises in ephemerality in public art and creative approaches to public engagement. Artichoke were drawn to the collaborative way of working and the practice-as-research methodology proposed by Jacek. Jacek is also involved with the University’s CREATURE: Research Centre for Creative Arts, Cultures and Engagement, which has experience of developing and disseminating research outcomes through creative practice,  public and performative activities.

2. Cinema Nation with Maya Nedyalkova, School of Arts, Oxford Brookes University

Cinema Nation wants to look at how community cinemas function and how internal cultures might relate to external cultural value and impact at local and national levels. It is particularly interested in organisations that are run by marginalised groups, and in organisations that embrace collectivity and DIY culture, especially those who see themselves and the communities they serve as interconnected eco-systems. 

Cinema Nation is working with Maya Nedyalkova and feel there is a strong connection between her work and theirs. Maya is knowledgeable about cinema, understands audiences and organisations and she proposed clear working methods based on her previous experiences working with academics and practitioners.

3. Charis Beoku-Betts, supported by Derby Museums with Tara Povey, Lecturer in Post-Colonial and Global History at Goldsmiths

A freelance artist working with the support of Derby Museums, Charis wants to explore the experience of Black people in UK Museums, particularly against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter, the return of the Benin artefacts and the Covid pandemic. Charis is working with Dr Tara Povey.

4. Compass Live Art with Matthew Reason, Institute for Social Justice, York St John University

Compass Live Art want to explore what participants and artists hope to gain from taking part in their 2022 festival in Leeds, monitor engagement and crucially look at the long term impacts of a live arts festival.

Compass is working with Matthew Reason and Lauren Hall from York St John. The organisation liked the creativity of Matthew’s suggested methodologies (e.g. walking interviews at the locations where projects took place) and the fact that he was keen to create structures that can be repeated by Compass in future festivals. Compass are excited by the idea that the research in itself feels like a creative project and that its results can be shared creatively at the final stages.

5. Crafts Council with Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas, Professor of Marketing and Sustainable Business, Glasgow Caledonian University London

Crafts Council want to understand the cultural value of craft, and the impact of immigration, migration, movement, displacement and community on cultural production and making.

 Crafts Council is working with a team from GCU London led by Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas to develop a social Living Lab. As the University for the Common Good, GCU London delivers social benefit and impact through its research. Natascha brings experience and understanding of participation methodology, emphasising the importance of new approaches to engaging with people who aren’t part of established networks, may practise in less visible spaces (e.g. at home) and who may not call what they do ‘craft’.

 Natascha and her team are experienced in conducting community-based research including using craft as participation method for appreciative inquiry.  They understand craft as a situated practice informed by culture and race, the starting point for Craft Council’s research that is now driving an intersectional approach in its work.

6. Liverpool Biennial working with Sandra Hiett, Senior Lecturer in Art and Design Education, Liverpool Hope University

Liverpool Biennial wants to explore the benefits of connecting local, working-class communities with contemporary visual arts.

The Biennial is working with Sandra Hiett. Her ‘action research’ approach and her listening, participant-led methodology are a good fit with the work of the Biennial and the communities Sandra would be working with. Sandra also has brilliant local knowledge and is passionate about art and its potential for change. Sandra’s previous research projects have inspired Liverpool Biennial to think about the research differently.

7. National Museums Liverpool working with Sophie Oliver, Lecturer in English, University of Liverpool

How can objects from the past help us understand the complexities of gender today? National Museums Liverpool want to explore how their collections can be used by individuals to narrate their own experiences of gender, including cis-gendered, trans and non-binary people.

National Museums Liverpool is working with Sophie Oliver. There is a strong alignment between the museums’ and Sophie’s work and interests, particularly in terms of how to approach this research and how to add multiple voices and layered interpretation to create a dialogue between the past and the present. 

Sophie has a clear vision for how the museums can engage with diverse groups, starting with the objects and using them as a starting point for people to talk about their lived experiences of gender. Sophie wants the research to influence the museum’s future practice including curation and interpretation and to connect with other academics and museum professionals.

8. Quarantine with Rox Middleton, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol

Quarantine is interested in exploring moments of beauty in live performance, and examining the value of beauty.

 The organisation is working with Rox Middleton from the University of Bristol. Quarantine found that there was a surprising alignment between Rox’s work and its interests, with rich territory to explore together. 

As a physicist, Rox brings a different lens through which to look at Quarantine’s work and research question, which will usefully expand the thinking (in both directions). Rox is also interested in exploring ideas of beauty and value in physics and the natural sciences and in science communication. Together they want to open a new vista on the articulation of the value of beauty.

9. Rising Arts Agency with Andreana Drencheva, Lecturer in Entrepreneurship, University of Sheffield

Rising Arts Agency is a Bristol-based community of young creatives aged 16–30 mobilising others for radical social, political and cultural change. It wants to explore the nature of truly equitable partnerships in the cultural sector, particularly the power imbalances at play between funders or large institutions and small grassroots organisation.

Rising Arts Agency will be working with Andreana Drencheva and felt that Andreana’s expertise around the specificity of social enterprises and power would lend itself well for the project. They’re excited to work in a truly collaborative way, bringing different lived experiences to the table to explore the individual and institutional benefits truly equitable partnerships do and could have on the wider cultural sector.

10. Something To Aim For with Harry Dyer, Lecturer in EducationUniversity of East Anglia

Something To Aim For (STAF) works at the intersection of the arts, learning, health, and wellbeing sectors. It wants to explore the interactions and the barriers people experience in engaging with culture in the digital space, specifically for groups who are currently under-represented. Initially working with visually impaired artists and communities, the project will explore how visually impaired performers can make compelling work in digital spaces, creating representation on stage and engaging diverse audiences

STAF are working with Harry Dyer. There are strong shared values between the organisation and Harry’s work. Harry has a clear and sensitive understanding of the complex issues STAF wants to explore in relation to access and systemic exclusion and is stretching the way STAF is approaching the research to include practice based inclusive action research processes.  

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