Fuelling collaboration through partnership

An interview with the London Arts and Humanities Partnership

LAHPHow can higher education institutions work with cultural partners to support postdocs? What skills can be gained from sharing knowledge and experiences between industry, the arts and universities? To find out we interviewed Kate Dunton, Research and Education Manager in the Cultural Institute at King’s College London and part of the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP).

The LAHP brings together three leading UK research organizations, has 750 active research staff and more than 1,300 PhD students. Routledge (part of the Taylor & Francis Group) is a cultural partner, working with the LAHP on initiatives to support their PhD students. This includes a daylong workshop on ‘Publishing your research: an introduction’, where students will have the opportunity to get guidance and support from across our books and journals teams, and from journal editors and a published book author. We’ll be tweeting tips and tricks from the day this week, and have a series of guest blogs from the postdocs on the LAHP over the course of the next month.

To begin our series of guest blogs, Kate introduces the LAHP, its aims and work, and discusses how collaboration is key to its success.

“…a highly talented bunch of Arts and Humanities PhDs”

On joining the Cultural Institute at King’s in January 2016, my first task was to plan a Summer Week for the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP).  On one side, we had our first cohort of 80 LAHP students – a highly talented bunch of Arts and Humanities PhDs across King’s College London, University College London and the School of Advance Study.

“representing some of the leading organisations in the arts, culture and heritage sector”

On the other side, an extremely distinguished roster of Cultural Partners representing some of the leading organisations in the arts, culture and heritage sector.  The question now was how to bring them together.  Key to this would be understanding the needs and priorities of both, and how they might overlap in mutually enhancing ways.

This remains, in truth, a work in progress.  My highly pleasurable work on LAHP involves meetings with our key contacts at organisations as diverse as Routledge, the Victoria and Albert Museum, AM Heath Literary Agency, the British Film Institute, Tate Modern and Lambeth Palace Library.  We also survey each incoming cohort to find out how they might like to work with partners, what they might bring, what they might gain.  Running and evaluating events like the Christmas networking event, last year’s Summer Camp, and this year’s placement scheme, also provides crucial opportunities to chat with partners and students, and observe what works and what doesn’t.

“…a growing sense of what can be gained through such collaborations”

Like much of my work with the Cultural Institute, I feel at different times like a dating agency, a marriage guidance councillor, and even a somewhat disreputable door-to-door salesman, trying to coax both sides into an encounter in the ‘third space’ between the two sectors whilst remaining sensitive to their core business, whether that be completing their doctoral research on schedule or being a busy director, publisher, researcher, or educator in a leading arts, heritage or cultural organisation.  Miraculously, it seems to work.  This is in part due to the enthusiasm, curiosity and good will on both sides, but it also relies on a growing sense of what can be gained through such collaborations.

“…insights, experiences, skills and resources”

Our partners have been enthusiastic about the research skills that our arts and humanities doctoral students can bring to archival work, to better documenting particular aspects of their collections, or interestingly, archiving and sharing their own institutional history – often stored in boxes in a hidden cupboard, somewhere.  In turn, our students are increasingly aware of the range of insights, experiences, skills and resources that our cultural partners have to offer around object-based research, publishing, archiving, cataloguing, communication and public engagement.

Next steps for the LAHP will be to keep an eye on the research placements that are about to start at the V&A, the National Gallery and Tate, and hopefully grow the number of placements made available and taken up next year.  More generally, we aim to keep learning about how we can work together and provide opportunities for fruitful collaborations.

In William Boyd’s latest novel, Sweet Caress, his characters play a game in which they sum up a mutual acquaintance in four words.  LAHP in four words?  Surprising, evolving, unruly, brilliant.