Growth of arts and culture relies on symbiotic partnerships

State of the Arts

During my three and a half years as Executive Director of the Abbotsford Arts Council (AAC), I witnessed a distinct shift in the way the major cultural institutions in the city operated. When I started working in the arts community in 2012, these institutions seemed to operate largely independently of each other. There was some collaboration among them, but it was limited, and the atmosphere felt fragmented.

Over time, however, communication between the entities improved, and partnerships developed. This may have started with a few staff members from each institution coming together and discovering opportunities for collaboration, but it eventually evolved into entire boards coming together in solidarity. These institutions came to realize that although they each have a unique and important role in serving the community, many of their goals complement each other, and by combining their strengths, all would benefit. As a result, the arts, heritage, and culture community in Abbotsford became stronger and more vibrant. That strength and vibrancy continue to flourish today.

When operating in a sector that is so strapped for funding like the arts, partnerships are essential to the cultural growth of communities. These partnerships need not be limited to exist between organizations whose missions compliment each other, however. The arts are so versatile that an arts organization can have a symbiotic partnership with other organizations that use art to support their mandates. Such a partnership evolved between the AAC and BC Teen Challenge Women’s Centre, and I am incredibly thankful to have had a role in developing it. BC Teen Challenge Women’s Centre is an organization that provides faith-based residential addiction recovery support for adult women suffering from any type of addiction. The women made jewellery as part of the recovery process and sold it at art markets, craft fairs, and other venues selling artisan goods. In doing this, the women not only enhanced their artistic abilities but also developed sales and business skills.

“When operating in a sector that is so strapped for funding like the arts, partnerships are essential to the cultural growth of communities.”

The Centre approached the AAC about selling the jewellery in the Kariton Art Gallery’s Boutique Gift Shop, which features a variety of locally-made artwork by artists of all levels and backgrounds. The women’s work was juried, accepted, and subsequently featured in the Boutique. This may seem like a simple business relationship between two organizations, but it actually meant much more to both the Centre and the AAC. The Centre shared with me how much it meant to the women to have their work featured in a real art gallery, which motivated them to create more and to be innovative in their creations. In featuring the work, the AAC was not only supporting its own mandate but also supporting the women’s addiction recovery process, which was valuable to the organization from a public relations perspective. Over time, the Centre and the AAC discovered more opportunities to work together beyond the Boutique, and the relationship progressed and became even more synergistic.

I would encourage arts organizations desiring growth to seek out partnerships that would reciprocally benefit all parties involved. A good place to start this process would be by visiting the Abbotsford Arts Council’s website (, which has more than 90 arts and culture organizations of a wide variety of genres listed. Arts councils in other cities typically have similar membership directories available. Don’t stop there, however. Think about where your organization wants to go in the future and the people and resources it needs to get there, whether they be arts or non-arts related. Once identified, think about what your organization can offer in return. Focus not on what their organization can do for yours or what yours can do for them, but what you can achieve together for the benefit of the community.

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Photo by Joe Johnson