Successful International Partnerships in Culture

International cooperation enables implementation of large-scale projects, knowledge sharing, entry into new markets and professional growth.

The EU-EaP Culture and Creativity Programme organised a study tour to Poland for six cultural operators from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. Over the course of several days, the participants worked together and planned joint activities with cultural organisations from Warsaw, Krakow, Lublin, Lodz, Gdansk and Olsztyn. Once the partners had completed their first joint projects, we talked to them about the lessons they had learned from communicating with their peers. 

See Yourself in a New Light: Balki Project + Art_InkubatoratFabrykaSztuki

The Minsk-based Balki Project started out as the Balki Loft creative space. Today, Balki is engaged in educational and software development projects in culture and IT. These activities include online education, creative spaces, study tours and conferences for professionals from the creative industries. Balki is run by a small team, but its progress is impressive and, by its own admission, not least thanks to effective interaction with partners.

Balki Project’s partner was one of the most famous creative incubators in Poland,  at FabrykaSztuki. This multidisciplinary cultural institution in Lodz was founded in 2006 and is housed in an old 19th-centuryfactory. It is the location ofArt_Inkubator, an incubator for creative industries where “creativity meets entrepreneurship”. FabrykaSztukiaims to support the creative sector in its business activities. The incubator hosts workshops, conferences, consultations for creative entrepreneurs and cultural events. It also includes a residency programme and an online platform for creative management that aims to help creative sector operators acquire new knowledge and skills.

According to Balki Project founder Margarita Lazarenkova, in addition to joint projects, one of the important outcomes of Balki’s partnership with FabrykaSztukiwas the opportunity to see her work in a new light. “We told the cultural expert AgataEtmanovich that works with FabrykaSztuki, about our core business and our problems, and asked her for advice. Agata answered honestly, ‘You know, not every city has to be creative.’ Her outsider’s insight gave us a possibility to look at ourselves with fresh eyes. We began to study Minsk anew, lend an ear to its needs and discovered many interesting things.”

Thus, Balki discovered that the IT sector is growing in Minsk, moving from outsourcing to its own startups (a successful example is the video appMSQRD, which was purchased by Facebook). “We decided to support the potential of this field and undertake projects that tied together culture, business and technology—after all, real innovations are born today at the confluence of these,” Lazarenkova said.

Today, the partners have a host of common plans. One example is their effort to organise in Poland an educational camp for creative specialists. “We chose storytelling as our main theme, as many artists, musicians and designers create amazing things, but can’t tell the world about it,” Lazarenkova said. “The programme will include such disciplines as the basics of presentation, developing relationships with the audience and digital marketing. Also in 2017, we plan to organise bring Belarusian participants to Lodz Design Festival and the art residency at Art_Inkubator.”

Judging fromBalki Project’s experience, study tours and travel not only strengthen partnerships but also open new prospects for individual operators and countries. These trips help them see the bigger picture and look at their own projects from the side. This outsider’s perspective significantly changes the core business of an organisation. “But what was most valuable was the people we got to meet,” says Lazarenkova.

Cross-sectoral Collaboration: KulturaMedialna + Bolt Music

The KulturaMedialna NGO from Dnipropetrovsk defines the scope of its interests as “new media art and culture as a medium”. This includes visual arts, technologies and urbanism. The organisation’s most famous project is the new media art festival Construction. KulturaMedialnaalso organises cultural events, promotes contemporary art, supports young artists and develops creative practices in the public space.

The organisation chose Bolt Records as partner, a music production agency from Warsaw specialising in contemporary music in Eastern Europe. Both projects promote experimental contemporary culture in their countries, and they have similar audiences. “After communicating with the guys from Bolt Records, we saw how we could make cultural life at home, in Dnipropetrovsk, richer and more diverse,” says KulturaMedialna’s project manager and curator Kate Rusetska.

KulturaMedialnaand Bolt Records is a great example of across-sectoral partnership involving culture, urbanism, business and the public sector. “Bolt Records and KulturaMedialna are on the same field of experimental music in Eastern Europe. We both have a small team and a similar structure. That is why we are happy to collaborate and help each other with contacts, connections and tips,” says Rusetska.

Today, the partners have several collaboration domains. The first is musical projects. Thus, KulturaMedialnais consulting Bolt Records curatorMichal Mendyk on the participation of Ukrainian artists in his New Music from Eastern Europe project. In turn, the Poles have introduced their Ukrainian colleagues to musicians on their label and the Czech duet Tyto Alba performed at Construction 2016.

The other area of collaboration is Glissando, a magazine on experimental and new Eastern European music, published in Polish and English. “They are trying to create an international network of theorists, performers and composers of new music,” says Rusetska. KulturaMedialnais taking part in this process of sharing contacts and developing a professional community.

Both organisations also focus on urbanism. KulturaMedialnais familiar with the subject of the architecture of unfinished buildings. Therefore, meeting the curator, critic and participant Michal Libera of Bolt Records proved to be very useful. He recently finished writing a book about the architecture of unfinished buildings in Southern Italy and continues to work with this subject in Poland and Europe. The partners’ plans for the near future include a joint urbanism project.

In addition, Bolt Records andKulturaMedialnaare planning a number of joint online and offline projects, which include the Poles being partners of Construction 2017. The festival will be a platform for discussing joint initiatives for musical events in Dnipropetrovsk and Warsaw next autumn. In parallel, KulturaMedialnaplans to expand with similar projects from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany and Lithuania.

Talking about the importance of international partnerships, Kate Rusetska says that the main lesson learned is the need for openness and willingness to communicate. She believes it is particularly important for young cultural operators to build partnership networks. “We are glad that we were not afraid to submit our application, we were selected and met not only with Bolt Records but also with other organisations that have also become our partners. We realised how useful and important it is to go beyond the local context, to learn, share experience, implement joint projects, expand our horizons, be exposed to new practices. This gave us an opportunity to meet a large number of experts and partners.”

Establish Contact with Another Country Through Culture: MIHR Theatre + Stefan JaraczTheatre

The experimental MIHR Theatre from Armenia was founded in 2003. This theatre company combines dance, psychology, philosophy and drama in its works to reveal the meaning of stage movements.
MIHR Theatre’s partner as part of the study tour was the Polish 
Stefan Jaracz Theatre in Olsztyn, founded in 1925. Its productions are held on four stages, each of which represents a certain direction. The team calls its project “eclectic theatre in the best sense of the word”, offering the viewer a wide range of poetics and theatre productions that take into account current trends in the performing arts.

“After meeting the team from the Stefan Jaracz Theatre, we saw how Polish theatres work, the challenges they face and the successful approaches they use,” says MIHR Theatre’s international project leader Hayk Vardanyan. After meeting in Olsztyn, the partners decided to organise a study tour for theatre collectives of their countries and agreed to participate in theatre festivals in Yerevan and Olsztyn.

The theatres already have several joint projects. “Upon our return to Armenia, we shared our contacts with our colleague Richard Kalinoski with whom we organised the Polish dance platform Choreographic Territories within the framework of the High Fest International Performing Arts Festival,” says Vardanyan. “After the festival, MIHR Theatre’s artistic director TsolakGalstyan was invited to take part in the Polish Dance Platform project in Lublin.”

The Stefan Jaracz Theatre invited the Armenian company’s Lavash to the Demoludy international theatre festival. MIHR Theatre made a reciprocal gesture and there are currently discussions about a future trip by the Poles to Armenia to attend the High Fest International Performing Arts Festival.

“Before applying to participate in the study tour, we received a list of potential partners from which we could choose the one that suited us best,” recalls Vardanyan. “That’s great because it gives a clear understanding of which project we will be able to implement. During the trip, we also made many new professional contacts, which helped us forma strong link with Poland. While our Polish partners have discovered our project and, through us, Armenia.”

The Culture and Creativity Programme’s expert Ragnar Siil is confident that international collaboration is not only useful but also necessary. “Partnerships enrich our own experience and help us see the bigger picture, bringing fresh ideas to what we do. You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel, instead, you need to keep your eyes open to learn from one another, sharing successes and mistakes. This allows us to share our own story (both personal experience and the history of the nation as a whole) with a wider audience around the world. In addition, with a larger number of partners it is possible to implement larger-scale projects and receive greater support, for example from programmes like Creative Europe,” says Siil.

Below are Ragnar Siil’s three practical tips for building effective international partnerships in culture:

  1. To find foreign partners, take part in events and activities that are important for your sector. You must know how to present your achievements in an attractive way and in those languages, that would be understood in your target market, at least in English.
  2. To successfully build a European partner network, it is important to be present online. Your business portfolio must be available on the web (on your website or on another platform), and your page should have an English version.
  3. Try to understand the issues and trends in other countries and think about how you can interact with them. Cultural operators often have the feeling that for successful cooperation you need to have a big idea, and only then find partners who will help to implement it. But thepartnership is a two-way street, so sometimes you have to be prepared to work on other people’s ideas.

Learn more about finding international partners by taking our online course:

The article was drawn up in cooperation with the EU-Eastern Partnership Culture and Creativity

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