Partnering Strategies for Arts and Cultural Organizations

Posted on August 21, 2014
To mark Art Appreciation Month, we’re highlighting a report that reviewed congressionally-chartered organizations, and identified some strategies that arts and cultural organizations have used to leverage non-federal resources.  In June 2013, we reported on how a few of these organizations—including the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art—used partnering to:
  • generate revenue,
  • further research goals,
  • enhance programs,
  • strengthen internal operations, and
  • raise private funds.


Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Other museums, memorials, and cultural institutions could use principles we identified to guide management decisions about partnering. Here are some examples of creative ways organizations applied three of these principles: Select complementary partners and appropriate projects Partners should bring complementary resources and skills to projects that make sense for the organization and the partner. For example:
  • QVC helped the Smithsonian sell jewelry with designs based on the institution’s gem collection. In another instance, Mattel provided product development expertise to design, produce, and sell a paleontologist Barbie doll. The resulting revenues were used to fund programs.
  • The National Gallery of Art partnered with District of Columbia public schools to expand its audience. The program brought fourth and fifth grade students (who were otherwise unlikely to visit) to the museum. As part of this program, students visit the museum up to 14 times over two school years to view, discuss, and create art.
Assess and manage risks Incorporating risk assessment and risk management practices can help ensure that the organization recognizes and is prepared to manage explicit and implicit risks when partnering with others. For example:
  • To minimize the likelihood that partners could potentially damage its reputation, the Smithsonian Institution only allows the use of its space for specific purposes. This allows the Smithsonian to retain appropriate control over its facilities. Events such as weddings or birthdays; partisan, political, or religious gatherings; fundraising; or marketing events are prohibited.
Make partnering decisions in line with mission Organizations should have clear, well-articulated missions; strategic goals to achieve them; and a defined process for assessing whether partners’ missions and goals are complementary. For example:
  • To preserve the park’s beauty and natural resources, the Presidio Trust strategically chose financial self-sufficiency as its primary goal. To achieve self-sufficiency, the Presidio Trust worked with real estate and construction firms to plan, develop, and manage the rehabilitation and rental of structures on park property. These partnering efforts helped the Presidio Trust successfully meet its goal of financial self-sufficiency by fiscal year 2012 while also making significant progress in historical preservation.