Partnerships 101

With little first-hand experience of seeing gallery partnerships in action, a recent seminar at the National Portrait Gallery taught me a lot about developing and delivering effective and meaningful partnership work with young people...  
Materials given to attendees of the Domino Effect Conference at the NPG, October 2014

Domino Effect conference delgate pack, Octber 2014.

The seminar, Domino Effect: Engaging NEET Young People Through Photography, presented an exciting example of what I thought was a really successful partnership project: Domino Effect, which ran over 3 years and looked to create links between identity, young peoples values and portraiture. Over its duration, the project joined the National Portrait Gallery with several partner boroughs through whom they engaged various groups of NEET young people. Two partnerships were worked on per year.

The young people’s engagement took the shape of 5 day courses led by NPG Learning Freelancer photographers. Dependent on what was most appropriate for the young people, this took place over one week or was split over a series of evenings/afternoons. A range of learning styles were considered, and ‘traditional’ learning methods reconsidered; the emphasis throughout was on practical elements of photography, enabling quick and tangible outcomes which helped sustain levels of engagement. Over the course, the young people played role of photographer / subject / director, with activity based at their centres, out in their localities, and the gallery. By the end of the course, each participant had created their own photography portfolio, and some groups curated a display of their work at council headquarters.

So what did I learn about creating partnerships? And what was key for the young people involved in the project?

How do you develop strong and sustained partnerships?

  • Partnerships are like a relationship – they have to be mutually beneficial
  • Be honest
  • Consult with the young people first before engaging them in a project – will it suit their needs? What will they want to gain? What will encourage their participation?
  • Constantly evaluate – really important to be flexible and responsive to needs of the young people you’re working with, especially when a project is durational
  • Find the moments where you can factor in peer-led – it might not always be appropriate

What was important for the young people on the project?

It’s important for the young people to feel comfortable in their surroundings. If they’ve never visited the gallery before, it’s not the best place to start a project. Start on their turf, at their centres, and once they are familiarised with the project, the practice and the people, then introduce them to the gallery space. In all cases, it was important for the young people to meet at their central council base, and then taken to the project locations.

Post-project progression routes should be available, hosted by both partners. For example, Southwark, one of the NPG partners, offer national apprenticeships, Southwark apprenticeships and local training. The NPG offered a route into their peer-led programme. This was facilitated through a ‘buddy’ system – one of the gallery’s young people attended the last project session, who was then a familiar face for any of the project participants joining the peer-led activity. This was effective in supporting the transition.

Project activity should be varied and result in tangible outcomes, short and long term. Short to keep people inspired, long term to create more focus. Domino Effect used disposable cameras, compact printers and instant cameras to create quick physical results of the creative work being done. The project activity varied from being classroom/centre based to outdoor activities with field trips and gallery visits included.

Collaborating with peers. Much of the activity is social, and the element of collaborating peers enables individual confidence building, as well as new friendships.

Two of the young people who participated in the projects were present on the day to give attendees a guided tour of an exhibition and show us the portfolios they created as part of the project. Since Domino Effect, both of the young people have gone on to pursue photography, recreationally and to generate income for themselves. They guided us around the exhibition with ease and confidence, and the quality of their photographic work was amazing, to the extent that my tour group thought the first photograph we were shown was a NPG collection work!  The time I spent with the two project participants was completely inspiring, and showed exactly the impact a partnership project like this can have.

To accompany the seminar, the NPG published a toolkit aimed at informing other cultural sector practitioners and community arts organisations about the processes, challenges and opportunities of implementing the Domino Effect, and sharing practice and expertise about working with NEET audiences – a recommended read! 

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