Play Nicely – Rethinking Partnership Working with Close and Remote

Visual Arts Plymouth’s Rethinking Partnership Working workshop (July 2018) was conceived as a means of drawing together interested parties from the region to explore practical methods of setting up partnership working relationships. The free event was oversubscribed and the attendees represented a broad cross-section from the arts, science, heritage, education, business and community sectors. Each participant came with an open mind, willingness to contribute and with a mutual interest for future partnership opportunities.

Workshop leaders Close and Remote
Rethinking Partnership Working Workshop leaders Close and Remote introduce their ‘Partnership Decision Making Flowchart’

Here’s a report on the event from VAP Activator – Rachael Allain…

Visual Arts Plymouth Coordinator Rachel Dobbs introduced the event with one of the aims (of the series of workshops that VAP have been delivering) being ‘to skill up the art sector’ as well as supporting the creation of new projects and partnerships. Rachel also set the challenge for all participants to meet and talk to at least two new people during the event as a means of networking and developing the opportunity to forge new contacts.

Workshop Facilitators

The facilitated workshop was led by the artists’ duo Sophie Mellor & Simon Poulter of Close and Remote. Based in Plymouth their on-going practice responds to history as a dynamic form of representation. They work across disciplines, with a specific interest in art and social transaction and have a long track record of working on significant partnership projects around the UK with diverse partners such as universities, nature reserves, local authorities, local residents, special interest groups, community workers and artist-led organisations. They also regularly undertake creative consultancy, facilitate artist development, and run peer-to-peer artist media labs.

On their website Close and Remote describe what they do as

work with an informal set of understandings that inform our practice and process:

• The obvious is always present
• The edge of a situation has value
• There is no such thing as content
• Lifestyles are not defined only by technologies
• Uncertainty is preferable over innovation
• Aesthetics contain cultural currency and agency


Workshop Aims & Activities

The aim of the workshop was to facilitate and guide the attendees through a series of activities that would develop strategies for establishing and developing coherent creative partnerships. The overview for the day would involve a series of activities to cover:

  • Understanding partnership working (from the experiences in the room)
  • ‘Play Nicely’ and case studies
  • a Partnership decision-making flowchart
  • Partnership workshop (devising partnership project ideas) & feedback session
  • Project planning and inception
  • Devising a manifesto for the day and final feedback


Participants trying out Transactional Analysis
Workshop participants trying out a Transactional Analysis activity

The artist duo gave a very clear introduction and set up an informal structure to the workshop by allowing participants to respond and interact in a playful and inclusive way drawing out key questions involving types, and preferences, likes and habits. This approach, (based on Transactional Analysis, a psychoanalytic theory wherein social transactions are analysed to determine the ego state of the individual as a basis for understanding behaviour) focussing on playfully doing something, created a relaxed atmosphere and encouraged mobility and interaction within the group. The purpose of this activity was to highlight the fact that each party comes with a different perspective and self-interests that need to be made evident and dealt with in a partnership situation.

Arts Partnership Guidance Notes

Each participant was given a copy of The Arts Partnership Guidance Notes, and open source ‘summary of ideas for common ways of developing a partnership’ developed by Close and Remote.

You can download the document via Close and Remote’s website, or as part of Visual Art Plymouth’s Partnership Working resources guide (via the link below)

Understanding partnership working [resources]

We were introduced to the various examples of partnership working, and examined the positive and negative aspects that can arise including the difference between copyright and intellectual property and how to avoid nebulous outcomes. We tested out case study activities in sub divided groups, developed project ideas and delivered our findings to the group as a whole with constructive feedback on the development from the workshop leaders. These discussions were all linked back to the principles in The Arts Partnership Guidance Notes.

Top Tips for Partnership Working

It was suggested that with any completed project, ensure that you invest in hiring the best available photographer/film maker to document your work, as this will then be an excellent tool to evaluate and develop your future projects. Throughout my arts education this is a point that has been instilled in my memory, remember to make professional/high quality documentation of your work!

During the day participants collectively created a series of reflections for the Partnership Working Manifesto, which included tips for developing positive workable goals within a partnership. Some examples included:

  • Understand both ‘innovators’ and ‘gatekeepers’, work out how to play nicely from/with both positions
  • Hosts, Arts Organisations and communities have power and expertise- this has a massive value- don’t forget this!
  • If people are not getting paid, a letter of agreement might be most useful
  • Understand and talk about power dynamics early on (including ownership of things that are produced during projects
  • Understand and acknowledge each partners capacity
  • Say Thank You!

You can see the full Partnership Working Manifesto by following the link below:

Partnership Working Manifesto


By the end of the workshop I had definitely fulfilled one of the original aims of the day, meeting (many more than) two new people (from a diverse range of backgrounds) and had been taken through a very comprehensive and exhaustive list of methods and approaches to partnership working that will continue to inform and inspire my personal journey as an artist, educator and researcher.

Following on from the workshop the participants of the group discussed the desire to continue the conversation and implement the lessons learned about how to develop future partnerships. There are now plans for an ‘Information Sharing’ event, which will take place at Plymouth College of Art in the Autumn 2018. Latest updates and information about this event will be shared via VAP social media.

Visual Art Plymouth’s Talent Development Workshops during 2017-2018 are supported financially through Horizon – a collaborative two year programme of visual contemporary arts, funded through Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence fund and supported by Plymouth Culture.

Rachael Allain is an artist, educator, researcher and Visual Arts Plymouth Activator.