Working Collaboratively


What Makes a Successful Collaborative Project

I really enjoy working with other artists, designers and craftspeople (lets just call them creative people) because I think that projects can develop much more fluidly and fluently. Creative people tend to test the boundaries, discuss their ideas and take risks but the structure of a project helps with focus and direction.

Whilst a project can have a facilitator or ‘leader’ I believe that in collaborative partnerships or groups that the outcomes can often be quite different to the original intention depending on how much control the person who instigated the project applies.

Slow TV and the HTML Patchwork were fantastic arts projects because of the range of people who participated and the art outcome being so impressive but the amount or work the project facilitator took on is not to be underestimated. Having tried (and failed) to organise a group exhibition for artist-teachers in the past I think it takes a special kind of person.

Successful projects appear to have the following in common:

A strong energetic enthusiastic project facilitator willing to invest their time e.g. Topsy Grewlike and Ele Carpenter

An organisation to support the project from the outset e.g. Waygood and Access Space

A realistic timescale both projects took a considerable time from inception to completion

A sense of shared ownership and freedom… allowing participants to get something out of it.

I really like the concept behind Ben Jone’s curatorial project ‘Don’t Let the Media Have the Monopoly on the Freedom of Speech’ but unfortunately couldn’t attend the real life meeting of other interested parties. I have also been looking at Mark A Jame’s ‘Itinerant Toolkit’ exhibition at the Reg Vardy Gallery. Two current MA Curating students whose final projects both appear to centre on participation and collaboration around a key concept.

My Itinerant Toolkit

The Itinerant toolkit is for artists who need to travel as part of their work… it isn’t itinerant in the sense of a kit for a homeless person, or at least that’s how I understand it.

Passport/ID; debit card and cash (preferably a ready endless supply); Rucksack; Seasonally appropriate clothing; Mobile; Watch; Mouth splint (bruxism is a real headache) toothpaste and toothbrush; Deodorant; skeleton key no don’t want to be arrested for Trespassing/Breaking and Entering; Drawing kit- Notebook, HB Pencil, eraser and sharpener; Digital camera, laptop and all that electronic bumph (including of course a USB stick).

One ‘going-out’ outfit for previews, parties and networking!

Maybe my toolkit is a bit obvious but then again its what you do with the experience of a new place, people and opportunities as an artist.

Oh and just a wee bit more… on institutions.

Collaborative projects are now also organised through large institutions using new opportunities presented by Web 2.0 e.g. ‘Street or Studio’ at Tate and a curating project ‘Click’ with Brooklyn Musuem.

Whilst I found both projects engaging I guess I found ‘Street or Studio’ more rewarding as it engaged me with making as well as seeing and evaluating. However ‘Click’ was fantastic as a method of encouraging viewers to be active participants rather than passive observers and it also encouraged new audiences to become involved with the institution- there is probably very little chance of me ever getting to Brooklyn Museum but now that I have has a chance to take part in curating a show I am interested in what else might be happening in the future.

One of my Submissions on the Street or Studio Exhibition at Tate
One of my Submissions on the Street or Studio Exhibition at Tate
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4 thoughts on “Working Collaboratively

  1. elizabethkane says:

    Thanks for your kind words Pete. I don’t mind this being put on Graft- so long as you think it is actually valuable!

  2. brendadada says:

    The Tate and similar things tried at Brooklyn and Baltic aren’t collaborative though – they’re merely crowd sourcing. Beyond dropping your jpg onto a webpage you’ve no say in anything.

    Agree, great post. I’m doing a fair bit on this at the moment, revisiting a ton of old work about co-operation and collective working. It’s all timely, Elizabeth.

  3. elizabethkane says:

    Hi Brendadada I must admit I don’t know whether I agree with you or disagree- how contrary!

    I probably have stretched the term ‘collaboration’ as I find most definitions relating to artistic practice a bit problematic… you inevitably find exceptions!

    Your emphasis on dialogue in collaborative projects is central to the most successful collaborations. Whilst the Tate for instance had minimal ‘dialogue’ with the participants in ‘Street or Studio’ I had some interesting conversations with other people (strangers and friends) involved in the project about the theme.

    I think this is why I would still consider the ‘Street or Studio’ a collaboration, although the collaboration with Tate was not in depth the institution initiated my creative activity and dialogue with others- perhaps a term for a shared ‘starting point’ would be better.

    I agree with you ‘Click’ at the Brooklyn Museum was not a collaboration in terms of instigating creative activity but it was a collaboration in ‘ways of seeing’. I think that the in depth data they produced was fascinating… I just wish I could have seen the show (in the flesh so to speak) and that the debates I believe they had alongside the show had been mirrored by an online forum for those of us not able to get to the place.

    Perhaps the problem with Tate, Brooklyn, Baltic’s collaborative projects is they seem to lack that one essential creative facilitator who can recognise exciting potential in things and react to what’s happening.

    I confess I have never taken part in a Baltic online collaboration/shared starting point but did take part in the Big Draw in 2007, a collaboration to involve everyone in drawing.

    I am thinking of researching the possibility of such an event in my new school, definitely taking part in a Big Draw for North East art Teachers but there is no reason newcastleGRAFT couldn’t organise such an event- go on Pete!

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