On the surface everyone loves partnerships.
“I want to partner with this organization; I want to partner with that organization; I just love partnerships.”
But do we? Partnerships come in all shapes and sizes, some fit; some don’t. Just because two or more organizations seem to have similar interests does not mean a partnership is the right match.
At the American Alliance for Theatre & Education (AATE), the opportunity to partner comes quite often though we’ve become more and more discerning over the years.
We have some solid state partners. The Illinois Theatre Association (ITA), for example has partnered with AATE for the past five years in hosting the Theatre In Our Schools mini-conference in Illinois.
We have some sound national partners. We continually partner with the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) and Theatre for Young Audiences USA (TYA/USA) on national issues facing theatre education such as the upcoming revision of the National Arts Standards and Dramatic Change: an anti-bullying initiative, respectively. These partnerships just “fit”.
We’ve also had partnerships that were mismatched. Last year we attempted to partner with a school video content producer along the lines of YouTube. It seemed all the pieces were in place and a partnership was born. Then, something happened. It was unclear to me why it fell apart and the mutual interest seemed to dissipate. It made me wonder, what was the missing piece?
Just last week, I attended the Theatre In Our Schools mini-conference at Hartford Stage where some light was shed on my partnership perplexity. A plenary panel session delved deeper into the construct of successful partnerships. Just as the panel began to discuss, I had an idea. At this moment, I decided to get out my phone and ask my social networks what makes an arts education partnership successful.
Between responses in the room and wisdom from my Twitter followers and Facebook friends, the pieces of the partnership puzzle began to crystallize. Partnerships need the following to be successful:
- Equal footing of all partners
- High stakes for all partners (skin in the game)
- Flexible partners who understands one another’s needs
- Like-minded goals (not just financial)
- Friendship and respect
- Creation of inter-dependence
- Evaluation the memorandum of understanding to determine how partners’ needs have evolved. Avoid becoming stagnant.
- Agreement of expectations of everyone on the team
- Understanding of the mission, vision and culture of the partnership
- Development of a “we” mentality
- Commitment of time and hard work
Healthy partnerships contain all the right puzzle pieces that, when constructed correctly, create stunning advancements. When pieces are missing, or the wrong shape or size, the result is all kinds of wrong.
I doubt this list is complete. What’s missing?
From your own experiences, what other pieces are essential for healthy arts education partnerships?