Are virtual partnerships the future? A study of theVOV.

Are virtual partnerships the future? A study of theVOV.

Aug 05, 2021
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What can we learn from theVOV virtual fundraising? 


In February 2020, if you’d told me you wanted to see some art this weekend and I suggested we take in one exhibition spanning 400 miles, you might have pointed out a little thing called the laws of physics. 


But, we’re in 2021 now, and earlier in July that’s exactly what art lovers could do on theVOV’s brand new digital platform. 


TheVOV is a fundraising initiative which brought together 15 institutions spanning the full length of the UK, and 27 artists for a virtual exhibition. The idea was conceived by charity Outset Contemporary Art Fund and art-science collective Visualogical.


The exhibition itself was full of, well, everything you could want. Basically an online festival of art, patrons toured exhibitions virtually in the different spaces, led by expert curators, artists and directors. There was an opportunity to work with these experts further in more intimate creative workshops. Throughout the exhibition, a glowing loveheart in your top right hand corner calmly encouraged patrons to donate (at times they were also directly prompted to do so). TheVOV then pooled all of the donations together and distributed them equally among the participating institutions.


Coming to the end of the pandemic, we all thought “online fatigue” was pushing us at speed towards the return of real tangible events. But in the June wave of their Cultural Participation MonitorThe Audience Agency found that audiences are on the whole proving slow to return, with many thinking they will probably still engage with much of their arts and culture online. So, it’s likely that even as we start moving back into venues, we’ll still see creative online experiences popping up and existing in tandem with live events.


But this story isn’t just about a whole host of incredible galleries coming together online, this is about a whole range of incredible galleries coming together full stop.


Partnership working isn’t a new thing. Since 2015 we’ve seen the impact of working with other organisations for example through Arts Council England’s Local Cultural Educational Partnerships (LCEPs). Embedded in communities, LCEPs are about very localised unique partnerships, with organisations pooling their resources and creating specific ways to support young people, artists and educationalists in their communities together. 


As the world has moved increasingly online, many of the barriers that seem to make it harder to work with a number of organisations together at scale have disappeared. Organisations from across the country can now share resources and increase their impact. It’s possible that patrons from Spike Island in Bristol would never have had thought to journey over to Manchester for a trip to the Whitworth – but it’s reasonably likely they’d have a good time if they did. Partnering with organisations who work in a similar way to you is a quick and easy way to get your work and message in front of potential new donors.


TheVOV exhibition also allowed audiences to discover and fall in love with a brand new art scene without committing to a cross country drive. As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, moving online has really democratised a lot of arts and culture. This too is powered up when working in partnership, as the time, expense, preplanning and knowledge to travel somewhere completely different are all added barriers which can leave people excluded. 


Additionally – “partnership” has become a bit of a buzzword for funders these days. After more than a year of crisis funding for organisations, funders are looking to support work that is built to last. The ability to lean on each other and share the burdens bakes improved resilience into the work. Following on from the pandemic, most organisations are left with a totally shifted set of resources anyway, so this is a perfect time to keep adapting and grow together.


Finally, I have to say, working in partnership with another organisation is just lovely. It’s been a rough year for arts organisations and it’s easy to feel disheartened. Therefore, in a world where it can feel as though we’re competing for funds, donors, audiences, it’s nice to have a wholesome reminder that these things can be shared.


Now that we’re accepting the “phyigital” as just another part of life, it’s likely that we haven’t even got close to exploring what we can achieve online. But, if there is one lesson to take away from theVOV’s new virtual platform, it is that we can achieve more together. 


So, what does an effective partnership actually look like? There are a couple of things it’s important to look at with your potential partners before you get started:


  • You need to make sure your organisations have a shared sense of values and an understanding of why you actually want to work in partnership
  • What do each of you bring to the table and why will that work well together? 
  • It’s important to make sure you have an exit strategy before you start – it’s much easier to work this out at the beginning of the partnership rather than the end! 
  • Finally, go into the partnership with honesty and transparency. You’re working together on this, so it needs to be a safe space for you to share how it’s going and grow together over the course of the project.


Let us know what you think makes a brilliant arts partnership on Twitter @artsfundraising!