There has been a long history of largely informal collaboration between Northern Stage and Newcastle University. In the past this has involved Northern Stage working closely with the Student Theatre Society (NUTS) and drawing on academic expertise to support their programme. Northern Stage also provides hire of its spaces to university societies at a discounted rate. The most consolidated expression of early partnership was the successful application for and recruitment of an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award student in collaboration with the School of English Literature, Language, and Linguistics.
Over the last 2-3 years however, new staff at both the University and Northern Stage have recognised the potential for these informal collaborations to become a much richer and to evolve into a more productive partnership – particularly when thinking on a strategic level. In December 2016 both partners attended an away day to identify strategic priorities and mechanisms to enable future partnership working. The away day addressed some of the immediate differences between the University and Northern Stage’s internal structures, funding drivers and timelines – all differences which could have very easily become barriers to a successful partnership. After the initial away day a Working Party was formed – convened and led by Newcastle University’s Institute for Creative Arts Practice and consisting of representatives from Northern Stage and Newcastle University, primarily from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences but with the ambition that, as the partnership and projects develop, the relationship will stretch across the University’s three Faculties. The Working Party meets regularly (roughly monthly) for 1 hour only. There are also termly ‘away days’ (roughly ½ day meetings) to allow for focused discussion of a particular topic. Where necessary staff from the University and Northern Stage meet separately around specific projects to drive initiatives forward and then report to the Working Party. This has created an agile, dynamic and purposeful relationship with clear momentum to sustain activities as identified individuals take on responsibility for driving initiatives forward.
Formally, Northern Stage is a tenant of Newcastle University and has a rent agreement for the theatre building. As a campus-based cultural asset, the University awards Northern Stage an annual grant towards its activities. This developing partnership helps both partners to articulate and build on the role they play in the arts and wider civic society. The University and Northern Stage have partnered on many enrichment activities, but it is the partnership’s development of cultural organisations as a space for research which is particularly promising. A good example is Northern Stage’s bid for £150,000 funding from the Clothworkers Foundation to develop its Young Company. As part of the bid, the University agreed to fund a researcher to focus on the methods through which Northern Stage evaluates it participatory arts activity with young people and the role the digital might play within that. Having been successful, an early career researcher is now fully funded to working alongside the Young Company for 9 months, and the University have been able to leverage additional funding from the Creative Fuse Digital Innovation Fund to develop new digital evaluation tools. This is in addition to securing a Knowledge Transfer Partnership associate to look at digital innovation within Northern Stage. Both the University and Northern Stage see the opportunity the partnership provides for more robust research with both academic and sector-wide influence.
Clear and regular communication, support at a senior level and a no-obligation, flexible approach to the partnership have been really key to its success. The University is now more conscious of Northern Stage’s priorities and how they might relate to/feed into/grow through the University’s strategic work, and vice versa. Several other potential strands for research partnerships are in development – some in conjunction with other cultural partners involving researchers and practitioners working in partnerships. Northern Stage has now written the partnership with Newcastle University into its 4-year business plan and its Arts Council bids, and the partnership looks set to be key to the University and Northern Stage meeting their strategic aims well into the future.
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