5 women sit around in a circle on the floor with Unlimited's Cards for Inclusion game in the middle. They are clearly deep in conversation and several of them are gesticulating.
Image credit: John Aitken

What Next? How to make partnerships more equitable

Unlimited is currently searching for new award partnersSo, it was timely to collaborate with What Next? – a free UK-wide movement for culture bringing together freelancers with arts organisations to inform, debate, and shape the future of arts and culture. We co-ran a session which included a dream space steered by Anna StarkeyUnlimited’s Chair, to generate ideas for a manifesto for collective and equitable sharing of power and the development of partnerships. Here’s a round-up of some of the ideas offered… 

We need spaces to dream and be curious; to remember, we can do or make anything.

There can be creativity of real value in both the imaginary and the real world.

Together, we can reveal the value of everyone and everything; everyone should be able to participate in and contribute to the creative imperative. We will leave all the doors open.

We will want more for our partners than from them, understand that we don’t know what we don’t know, value everyone’s thoughts and opinions equally, listen to the voices that are closest to us, and listen to the voices that are furthest away.

We will work to ensure the rhythms of partnership evolve in harmony, where the push and pull is equally felt and where there is space to share the impacts of personal as well as professional power. We will give our full selves to the space and work out how we can work together as we work on what our theme is. Content and form will be shaped by who we are not to fit what will be programmed.

We will ‘power with’– be in the space and let the space become what it needs to be with everyone present (as coined by Mary Parker Follet – ‘power With’ as an alternative to ‘power over’ or ‘power less’ positions).

We will value uncertainty and not knowing, embrace failure and ensure no decision worthy of being called a decision will be made by just one person or group.

We will give away what we most want to keep.

We will make sure everyone who can be paid is paid, and that the others benefit. We will pay all the lived experience community contributors. We will end the us/them between practitioners and participants and promote two-way exchange. Everyone’s time and skill are precious here.

No idea should ever be discounted solely on the basis of money. Size doesn’t matter. To speak the hidden agenda and not to think on behalf of the other.

We must relish hearing other views and opinions, and ways of doing things differently to our current habits and preference. We must delight in engaging with these to enrich our own approaches and actively expand our points of view, because if we do so our individual and collective lives become richer, more nourishing, and exquisite.

In this new space for partnering, everyone will be treated as they treat others, existing hierarchies will be actively flattened, there will be an alignment of values between partners, all partnerships will have space to start before the very beginning, and we will enjoy the process as much as the final goal.

Again and again, we will remember the privilege and centrality of time – time to listen, time to explore, time to care. We will make the time to share our dreams, understand each other, and collectively pursue the creation of combined approaches that suit all. We need to give time, space, and quality of attention.

We will be playful, mischievous, impish, and bring fun when exploring new ideas and processes.

We understand children can be creative consultants, that children are not the future – they are here now. We will invite children to make decisions.

We will actively consider the relationship with artists as partnerships, not contracts. We will seek out and welcome the thoughts and ideas from younger or junior members of a project/team/organisation.

We will take care of all our bodies and minds, including through buffets. Meetings can happen in the great outdoors, in swimming pools, in the places we love to be not just in corporate bland spaces. Online, we can join in virtually in our PJs – Zoom has taught us all to be together in different ways.

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Many thanks to all who attended or sent thoughts later. What Next? uses the Chatham House Rule so none of the above is attributed to any specific speaker. 

Additional suggested reading: Partnerships, power dynamics and the potential for change by Kamina Walton at Red Rising Arts; The Freelancers Task Force:  A Manifesto for (Better) Representation in U.K. Performing Arts; and Questions that you can ask to help your journey to (better) representation.