Arts organizations all over the world today find themselves operating in a climate of change and uncertainty, compelling them to act more strategically, reinvent their governance structure and restructure their business model (Fanelli et al. 2020; Reid and Turbide 2012). The numerous initiatives for improving performance around the world have, however, resulted in very different forms of governance and organizational structures. These often feature cooperation between the public and private sectors, aligning their interests in order to carry out projects and generate benefits for both (Borin 2016).
Multi-stakeholder partnerships and forms of collaborative governance (CG) have been implemented in order to overcome scarcity of resources and lessen the financial burden on the public sector (Andres and Chapain 2013; Borin 2016; Fanelli et al. 2020).
Doberstein (2016) wrote that the aim of CG is to allow for the creation of public value through a perspective in which public administration is no longer the sole player but takes part in intensive collaboration with private firms and civil society.
Researchers and practitioners were led to shift the focus towards more complex frameworks, arrangements, governance, and management models. Growing attention was given to how these new forms of collaboration generate public and social value (Skelcher 2010).
The consideration of both public and social value represents a departure from the traditional approach; in the new scenario, the economic dimension is still significant, but it is no longer the sole priority, and value generated for the community acquires new importance.
Governance Issues in the Cultural Sector: The Need for Collaboration
In the majority of Western countries, because art and culture are considered merit goods, the arts sector has traditionally been characterized by a strong presence of public institutions and by public funding (Towse 2001). However, the financial crisis has stemmed the flow of money to cultural organizations, in many cases compromising the achievement of their mission (Fanelli et al. 2020). As a result, performing arts partnerships with the private sector have become widespread, bringing new, potentially disruptive, changes. Koppell (2006) classifies the forms of collaboration between public and private entities along a continuum of hybrid arrangements, ranging from totally public ownership to complete privatization.
Financial concerns are not the only driver for the involvement of private actors in performing arts organizations. Collaboration can produce a societal impact as well as more efficient use of resources. There are positive externalities (public-sector benefits) to using the public–private partnership and CG model (Reeves 2002; Scott 2006). In other words, performing arts organizations not only increase their sources of funding but also gain artistic credibility and legitimacy when they are perceived as significant and inclusive by the wider community (Kann-Rasmussen 2019). It is essential for an organization to be able to show that it engages with society, because legitimacy derives from “crossing the borders” or having a public profile outside the organization.
With this in mind, many CG situations are attempting to overcome the traditional dynamics of sponsorship relations between performing arts organizations and private partners and are looking at more integrated forms of cooperation, such as the involvement of private actors in governance and management.
Italian Traditional Theatres: A Stronghold of Social and Local Values
The Italian performing arts sector is recognized as being fertile and innovative, of high technical and artistic quality, and is widely admired and imitated abroad. At the same time, it suffers from bureaucratic governance processes and sometimes lacks managerial vision and financial stability (Trimarchi 2002).
The Italian ministry of culture classifies performing arts institutions into three types (law 14, August 1967, no. 800): opera houses, traditional theatres and concert and orchestral institutions. Traditional theatres – the focus of this study – are deeply rooted in their local area; they do not usually have permanent staff but present opera, concerts and ballet regularly. They tend to be closely linked to a particular environment. They are usually located in medium-sized cities and are active in the local area. The main stakeholders are the local municipality and community.
Although collaboration enables traditional theatres to further contribute to social values, there are factors that prevent this. Our study identifies the main drivers of, and obstacles to, stakeholder participation in the CG process.
The main research approach in the field of CG is the single case study (Ansell and Gash 2008). Our case study focuses on an Italian traditional theatre, I Teatri Foundation of Reggio-Emilia. Our study is based on a recognized framework of CG, and the findings can be transferred to other traditional theatres in Italy.
The findings reflect the CG process at the micro level, inside the organization (inside the boardroom), and at the meso level (outside the boardroom). Both types of collaboration contribute to the fulfilment of the organizational mission and the creation of value for the public.
Collaborative Governance Inside the Boardroom
Traditional theatres are a stronghold of different social and cultural values in their community, which means that their management is complex and requires numerous actors, as they strive to demonstrate their capacity for joint action. Including different stakeholders on boards and adopting high levels of collaboration is crucial.
CG in the board is prescribed by law and is written into the statutes of I Teatri Foundation. The board is composed of five members representing both private and public sectors. Two members are from the public sector, one each from the municipality and the province. The appointment process for the two public members is internally managed by the public organizations and is aimed at “creating a board that is composed of different skills and competencies.” Two members are appointed by the main sponsors or private organizations, which are committed to financing the theatres consistently for at least three years. At the time of the study, one was a representative of the theatre’s main founding sponsor (a large utilities company) and the other was appointed by its three main sponsors. The board chair is the mayor of the city.
The data reveal that collaborative dynamics are influenced by the mix of skills on the board. Board members have a balanced combination of skills. Although the board does not include artist representation, the CEO reported that all members have a keen interest in the arts and are first and foremost holders of regular season tickets. Despite the presence of different external members contributing professional experience from other sectors, the board relies on the CEO’s opinion in artistic matters and for the majority of strategic decisions.
Collaborative Governance Outside the Boardroom
In I Teatri Foundation, new vertical and horizontal partnerships are replacing the traditional model of contracting out and externalizing. All board members noted that their role was most important, in relation to CG, outside the boardroom. Board members’ main input, in addition to overseeing activities, tends to be promoting the Foundation’s vision and social values among private entities and stakeholders in the wider society.
CG operates outside the boardroom because of a collaborative network, which can be ad hoc for specific projects or ongoing for festivals that can be held in collaboration with others.
The table here below summarizes the opportunities and challenges in collaborative dynamics for CG revealed in interviews and documents, according to the level of governance. All interviewees agreed that, for collaboration to be effective, the final objectives must be clear and shared. Also, as one board member noted, collaboration should not be imposed but all actors must be willing to share their knowledge and to set clear boundaries.
Implications for Management
The inclusion of private partners in the decision-making process is beneficial for cultural organizations, particularly those deeply rooted in local areas such as traditional theatres and performing arts organizations in general.
Organizations in the private sector bring a different vision and perspective, which helps the theatre to be more innovative, more financially stable, and to create more value for the community (Fanelli et al. 2020). Collaboration with private partners in the decision-making process both inside and outside the board should be encouraged, as the coexistence of the two types allows the theatre to effectively manage different opportunities. Managers should consider that the values upheld by the theatre are crucial for collaboration, and sharing these values fosters wider engagement both internally and externally.
CG outside the boardroom relies on organizations sharing the expertise, vision and know-how of their staff to create higher value for the community, which may be more feasible with multidisciplinary programs. Through governance outside the boardroom, theatres can support more artists, offer the community more varied programs and better interpret audience needs. Directly or indirectly, the local community determines the board and evaluates the outputs of the TT by attending performances and through numerous channels, including local newspapers, social media, letters, meetings and reports. In order to avoid tensions that can affect collaboration, areas of operation must be clearly specified for partners; it must be clear “who is expert in what” and “what they are willing to share.”
Theatres also need to display credibility and reliability, in order to attract private investment and legitimate collaboration with citizens and communities in the surrounding environment.
Collaborative governance is not a question of limiting the creative freedom or planning capacity of individual organizations; it is a question of taking full advantage of different types of knowledge and technology in order to combine financial resources on the one hand and real and potential value for the public on the other. Values such as trust, reciprocity and mutual gain are the basis of common goals that need to be identified (O’Toole 1997). As a preliminary exploration of CG in the performing arts, our study goes beyond the traditional model of CG, which focuses mainly on collaboration at the board level.
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