'Naive' arts partners exploited by the academy

February 4, 2010

Universities are inadvertently "exploiting" small arts organisations because of their superior negotiating skills when working on joint projects.

An analysis commissioned by the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange (LCACE), which supports knowledge-exchange work by the capital's universities, claims that arts organisations are often "naive" about the financial and legal issues inherent in such partnerships.

The study's author, Bronac Ferran, senior research tutor at the Royal College of Art, reports that arts organisations are often taken aback by the "numerous claims to ownership" made by academics in partnerships. Universities tend to be better at negotiating intellectual property rights and contracts, she adds.

"The arts sector is still deeply naive in such areas of negotiation," the study says. "When working with higher education, it is critical that arts organisations operate from a position of informed strength in order to best exploit and capitalise on potential partnerships." This would make joint projects "mutually beneficial rather than exploitative".

The study cites a deal involving the Arts Council and an unnamed university. Ms Ferran writes that "what had not been thought through, and took time and money to resolve, were the legal aspects of what had started as a fairly loose agreement".

She concludes: "If arts organisations and higher education institutions are to work together, then it is vital to acknowledge that they exist in a common ecology."

The analysis adds that a non-commercial approach to partnerships could be just as useful to universities. "Arts organisations that specialise in this work can offer curatorial, education and distribution opportunities that can greatly enhance the potential audience for research-based work," it states.

Sally Taylor, director of LCACE, said that if universities want to forge good links with arts organisations, they should "drop" debates over intellectual property and contracts.

"IP is the last thing anybody from the arts is going to think about. It is going to stand in the way of collaboration at a time when academics are under pressure to show impact."

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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