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The arts need Radical Collaboration

Image credit: Photo by "My Life Through A Lens" on Unsplash

The arts need radical collaboration to thrive in an uncertain and chaotic world. I learned this lesson when I started a grassroots non-profit arts organization just a few months after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020.

Throughout the past two years I’ve watched arts organizations respond to major sector changes in program delivery, funding and staffing. Like folks in other industries, I think the pandemic made us feel like we were swimming against the current, just trying to stay afloat.

Throughout the crisis I saw organizations use a variety of methods to continue operating, and noted that the most successful tool we can use going forward is our ability to collaborate and leverage our shared resources.

The organizations who came together during COVID seem to have made it out alive, yet strangely, this phenomenon of strategic collaboration isn’t well adopted in the arts and culture sector. Despite the fact that we’re underfunded and always expected to deliver more with less, collaboration between nonprofit arts organizations isn’t often used to its full advantage (COVID or not).

What’s weirder is that we’re not just not collaborating, but we’ve actually increased competition for resources. For example, “In the 1950s, the Canada Council for the Arts funded just 29 arts organizations (Canada Council for the Arts, 2001). Its 2017-2018 annual report noted that it funded 2,244 organizations and groups in those years.” SOURCE

In 70 years, we’ve increased the competition for Canada Council for the Arts grants by 77 times.

There are likely many very good reasons for the increase in arts organizations, such as serving a broader and more diverse range of needs; offering more grassroots and accessible services; delivering culture through new mediums and technology. Not to mention the positive increase in Indigenous-led arts organizations and groups that serve equity-deserving communities. Those certainly didn’t exist in 1950, but are a critical component of our arts sector.