Visual Arts South West Leadership Programme

Partnership V Collaboration in the arts, how different/similar are they? Carolyn Black


The first Visual Arts South West Leadership Programme session took place on 17 April 2013. Here, participant and director of Flow Contemporary Arts, Carolyn Black, shares her thoughts.


Yesterday I was privileged to share the day with a roomful of arts professionals from the South West UK region to discuss leadership in the visual arts, supported by VASW.

The day was fast-moving and stimulating, covering a huge amount of ground in a short time, yet allowing time for deep discussion and exploration. I’m not going to report on what happened in the room because it is a safe space for people to engage. But I will share part of my personal enquiry about what partnership and collaboration might look like.

For me, the conversation about the difference between partnership working and collaboration was intriguing. They are essentially very similar in intention but different by nature.

I did the diagram above to help me (translation for my scribbly writing is collaboration; partnership – led & partnership – by management committee)

In collaboration all are equal but no-one leads, it’s probably like a cooperative. My drawing is pretty stable, but it could equally be very wobbly, having no one person representing the collective voice and keeping things tight. However, it has the potential to balance.

Partnership – led means we’re all in this together, but for clarity and maintenance of a shared vision, one person leads on the partnership. This could result either in a strong balance, or create tension. Important that the person leading has been appointed by the partners but is also gifted autonomy to make informed decisions to enable forward movement.

Partnership – managed by committee has the ethos of the collaboration, but is weakened by its constant efforts to allow a voice to everyone involved, with no lead. So loose threads are left to dangle, with no-one there to gather them up and hold the collaboration together, as in the 2nd model. In these situations it is often that ‘he/she who speaks the loudest’ makes the biggest impact on what happens.

Online definitions given are:


  1. The state of being a partner or partners.
  2. An association of two or more people as partners.


  1. The action of working with someone to produce or create something.
  2. Something produced or created in this way.

So the first relates to ‘being’ whereas the second with ‘produce/create’ This aligns with the feeling in the room that arts managers refer to partnership, whilst artists are more inclined towards the term collaboration.

However, partners can collaborate, can’t they?

This article was first published on Flow Contemporary Arts.

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Visual Arts South West

Working towards a South West where talented artists thrive, and a resilient and connected visual arts ecology that inspires more engaged and diverse audiences to value and advocate for its work.

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