The Power of partnership working

Project Director Sarah Dance shares her reasons why collaboration should be at the heart of every project. 

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” Aristotle

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” Helen Keller

T.E.A.M – together, everyone achieves more


We’ve all heard these popular phrases before, and they’re all easily said. But how easy it in in practice? In my 25-year plus career in the arts, partnership working has been at the heart of everything I do, either as a Chief Executive/Director or now as a strategic consultant.

Why? Because I believe that’s how transformation can really happen: that’s when it becomes action rather than theory and becomes integrated across all areas of an organisation – a strategic plan, a project.

Jyll Bradley, Dutch Light for Agneta Block, credit Stephen White (4)

Jyll Bradley, Dutch Light for Agneta Block. Photo Stephen White

The key principles of partnership working are openness, trust and honesty, agreed shared goals and values, and regular communication between partners.  For the Cultural Destinations programme, we started our partnership working with the Culture Kent project, bringing 18 partners across Kent together to collectively raise the profile of culture across the region.

Turner Contemporary was the lead organisation for the project. Since opening in 2011, audiences and partnerships have been at the heart of the gallery’s ethos. Culture Kent was a natural extension of this, particularly working even more closely with Destination Management Organisation Visit Kent.

Arp The Poetry of Forms at Turner Contemporary. Photography Manu Palomeque (56)

Animals & Us exhibition at Turner Contemporary

This is what some of the participants felt at the end of the three-year project:

“Culture Kent has sparked a new focus on joint working in Canterbury which will continue to benefit us all going forward” Dave Yard, Head of Marketing, Gulbenkian

“This project has enabled us to integrate our marketing and programming approaches, and to directly test the impact on audience development.”
Catherine Herbert, Deputy Director, Whitstable Biennale

“The legacy of the pilot project is about the relationships that have been built, using them as a platform to move forward.” Alex Patterson, Collections, Galleries and Visitor Experience Manager, Historic Dockyard Chatham

It’s easy for us to stay in the comfort zone of our own sectors, and whilst hugely exciting and beneficial, cross-fertilisation can present challenges, discomfort and absolutely requires huge doses of patience and understanding as we try to speak the same language. Are we talking about ‘tourists’, ‘visitors’ or ‘audiences’? (in fact, they’re all the same we just label them differently depending what sector we’re working in and what we’re working on).

From the research we conducted into cultural tourism for Culture Kent, we know that our tourists/visitors/audiences (take your pick!) do not classify between ‘doing something cultural’ with ‘now doing heritage’ whilst on holiday. It’s only us in the sector that use this distinction.


Antony Gormley, Another Time XVIII 2013 (Loading Bay), Another Time XXI 2013 (Coronation Parade), commissioned by the Creative Foundation for Folkestone Triennial 2017.

Partnership working is at the heart of the agenda for improving outcomes. Which is why we’ve embarked on the Cultural Destinations 2 project England’s Creative Coast with Visit Kent – an even bigger cultural tourism project, with 2 principal funders: Arts Council England and VisitEngland, 10 cultural partners, local authorities, district councils, the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) and travel companies.

I really believe that a successful cultural destination is a networked place: that it is by not working in glorious isolation, but by working together with a holistic offer of a place, that we can attract more visitors and encourage them to stay longer and spend more.

Jeremy Deller, Sacrilege, 2012, photographer Matt Wilson

Jeremy Deller, Sacrilege, 2012, photographer Matt Wilson

There are I believe huge benefits of collaborating. By collaborating we can encourage visitors to explore more of the destination to develop a greater sense of that place, we can encourage people to stay longer and thus spend more. And of course there is the added benefit that by immersing themselves in a place they will develop a long-lasting memory that they can share with their friends, colleagues and families – becoming our very own ambassadors.

Collaboration also brings exposure to new markets, new visitors that businesses may not have been able to reach before.

We’ll keep you posted on how our partnership develops over the course of the project, our learnings and the positive impact it has had.

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