Recently I had the pleasure of being invited to Akron, Ohio to participate in meetings with local leaders and present a half-day professional development training on the basics of the pARTnership Movement, a program of Americans for the Arts which demonstrates that by partnering with the arts, businesses can gain a competitive edge. The pARTnership Movement offers language, resources, and case studies to help arts leaders “speak business.” It illustrates to the business community why they should be active partners with the arts, and how they can support the arts in myriad ways in addition to cash resources.
As well as providing online resources and tools, the pARTnership Movement serves as a professional development opportunity for local communities to bring Americans for the Arts to you to train nonprofits and meet with business and community leaders.
Why Akron, Why Now?
When it comes to cultural organizations building strong relationships with businesses, there is often a wide spectrum within local communities. Some have long-standing and deep relationships with businesses; others are just starting out. I was surprised to learn, upon my arrival to Akron, in what an interesting moment this city with deep roots in manufacturing (primarily the rubber industry) finds itself.
In recent years, several key leadership positions within the community have transitioned to new individuals. From Mayor Daniel Horrigan taking office in 2016 for the first new mayoral administration in nearly 29 years, to new leadership in the county, at higher education institutions, hospitals, and even the minor league baseball team, Akron saw an unprecedented shift in longstanding leadership in a short period of time.
Last year, Akron also welcomed a new Chamber of Commerce President, Steve Millard, and in 2015 the GAR Foundation and Knight Foundation invested heavily to found a new local arts agency, ArtsNow, to support and grow the cultural community. And though there is still a strong manufacturing presence, many of the large companies have moved or been acquired—something many communities are experiencing. Their executives are not necessarily Akron natives, and in some cases their philanthropic investments now must look to global communities beyond the city in which they reside.
It is during—and in some cases, because of—these changes that a renewed interested in determining the next chapter of Akron’s narrative became a priority for the community. I was inspired to learn how eagerly these local partners are working together to craft long-term solutions that will generate economic growth, retain Akron’s talent, and bring public, private, and nonprofit partners together to create a vibrant city in Northeast Ohio. For me, it was an exciting moment to step in and (hopefully) provide a helpful push from a national partner to support this local work.
Additionally, Summit County, Ohio is participating in a pilot membership cohort with Americans for the Arts. Coming to Akron at this moment in time was a great way of visiting with some of our members participating in the cohort—including Summit Artspace, featured this week on ARTSblog—and to make the connection of how our services can reach to the local level.
Meeting with Cross-Sector Partners
My two-day pARTnership programming consisted of not only a nonprofit training, but meetings with a variety of local partners. Nicole Mullet, ArtsNow’s astute leader, sees the benefit of convening public, private, and nonprofit partners to work together to advance each other’s agendas. In partnership, the three sectors are at the table together, listening to each other’s needs and objectives and working to find solutions that are mutually beneficial. This is exactly the approach the pARTnership Movement embodies. My first day and a half in Akron consisted of meeting with the local Chamber, public sector partners from both the County and the City, and a variety of community funders. The goal was to share national examples of how the pARTnership Movement principles comes to life, as a means of inspiration for how Akron can use its strengths to bring the public, private, and nonprofit sectors together.
Training for nonprofits
Following my community meetings, I headed over to Bounce Innovation Hub, a co-working space geared towards small tech and creative companies, for a three-hour training for 50 local arts and community leaders. My aim was to communicate that arts and business partnerships can look like so much more than a transactional relationship. With a focus on providing examples that enliven the newly revised 8 Reasons for Businesses to Partner With the Arts, we explored how to approach businesses with the goal of exchanging assets, rather than simply asking for cash. We also held a short panel from three local business leaders to hear directly from them on some best practices when approaching businesses for partnership opportunities.
How to bring the pARTnership Movement to your community
These in-person workshops are available to travel to your community, and we relish the opportunity to work directly with arts leaders across the country to strengthen relationships between businesses and the arts. Whether you’re looking for a half-day training, or a series of meetings and discussions with your chamber of commerce and business leaders, we can provide support as you navigate developing those relationships to deepen the connection across sectors. Please be in touch with our team if you are interested in having us visit your community and/or hosting one of these workshops.