Arts Access Demonstrates the Value of Shared Project Collaboration

After witnessing mass layoffs of art reporters at the Dallas Morning News, Jennifer Altabef had an idea. It was 2020, and Altabef, a National Public Radio Affiliate KERA board member, wanted to develop a solution to fill the void of art coverage in Dallas. An enthusiastic supporter of the arts herself, Atlabef decided to introduce KERA President and CEO Nico Leone to DallasNews CEO Grant Moise

KERA and The Dallas Morning News worked together to submit a grant application to the Better Together Fund and received the funding. The Better Together Fund, a multi-funder collaborative that supports nonprofit collaboration, decided to invest in the collaboration between the nonprofit KERA and the for-profit Dallas Morning News, given the possibility for a wide social impact. 

Margaret Black, a steering committee member at the Better Together Fund, describes how she viewed the potential collaboration: “The timing of when they came together is really important. It was about nine months into the pandemic. Journalism was already having its separate crisis… Both of these stewards of local news realized that arts coverage was at risk of being cut. We were confident that funding the exploration of a collaboration was especially catalytic during that time.”

KERA applied for an implementation grant from the Better Together Fund in 2021 and used the grant to widen the collaboration’s reach. After deciding how to approach collaboration and most effectively bring their two organizations together, leaders decided to produce a series about how the COVID-19 Pandemic has disrupted the arts and culture scene. By January 2023, they had received sufficient funding through joint fundraising to hire a Coordinating Editor and implement the plan.

Collaboration in Action

After deciding to collaborate to solve the lack of arts coverage in North Texas, KERA and the Dallas Morning News had to learn how to work together as one newsroom and reconcile differences in newsroom management styles and culture.

Ann Bothwell, Vice President of Arts at KERA, believes the key to collaboration is to “let go of your sense of the way things always are and think about what makes sense. You can only do that without ego.” Arts Access staff were part of both newsrooms, and the organizations blended together in distinct ways to maintain their autonomy. The collaboration utilized The Dallas Morning News’ copy desk and each organization’s individual marketing team working on the effort. 

Through the Arts Access collaboration, the newsrooms were able to reach a wider audience and tell impactful stories about the role of art in serving the community, engaging 59,000 online visitors in the summer of 2023. After this initial success, Arts Access received additional philanthropic support from funders, including the Communities Foundation of Texas.

Lessons from Shared Project Collaborations

The Arts Access story is one case study from the Sustained Collaboration Network report, a comparative case analysis of 14 successful collaborations and 6 unsuccessful ones. The Sustained Collaboration Network, a network of nonprofit funders and intermediaries, funded the report’s research and nominated its grantees to be included. Twenty collaborations, including eight integrated organizations, six shared program collaborations, and six network collaborations, were selected for a deeper analysis. 

Arts Access is an example of a shared program collaboration. This report explores the structure of shared projects and highlights their success. This collaborative effort between KERA and Dallas Morning News demonstrates how shared projects can provide innovative solutions to localized problems. Under shared project collaborations, organizations maintain autonomy and pool resources to collaborate on a joint outcome. This method allows them to work together to address an identified need more effectively than they could have. 

Some key takeaways from shared project collaboration include ensuring senior leadership’s commitment and identifying the benefits of low-risk projects. With the Arts Access collaboration, senior leadership from KERA and the Dallas Morning News executed their joint vision and gave staff the flexibility to try new things. 

Furthermore, the collaboration presented a low-risk opportunity for both newsrooms, the nonprofit KERA and for-profit Dallas Morning News, to work together, with the option of expanding services depending on results. Jennifer Altabef, the KERA board member, describes the reasoning behind this collaboration: “Not as many people read arts coverage as much as I would like. It wasn’t going to be a colossal, visible failure if it didn’t work. It seemed extremely low risk.”

Advice for Consultants

Consultants considering working with shared projects should first engage in feasibility analysis, interviewing leaders of organizations to determine the need for the envisioned joint service. They should also perform an environmental scan to assess if other similar types of projects exist and how the proposed idea compares. Furthermore, consultants may focus their work on shared projects, such as program planning, overseeing project timelines, and organization expenses. 

Download your copy of the reports at the Sustained Collaboration website. You can learn more about Arts Access’s story and explore additional case studies of successful collaboration. Look out for an upcoming podcast in the Sustained Collaboration Network series that will feature a conversation between Arts Access leaders as they discuss key insights from the experience.