Some of the most common FAQs presented to the ACDA Advocacy and Collaboration Committee include “how do I find someone to collaborate with” and “how do we make it work?” So often, finding that “perfect” partnership is the barrier in and of itself (hint: there is no such thing as “perfect” but we’ll get to that). Where do you look? What questions do you ask? How do you ensure both parties are enjoying a mutually beneficial partnership? When are you evaluating the impact and value of the collaboration? … and where does the time come to do all of these things?
If “advocacy” is the ability to tell the story and/or demonstrate impact, “collaboration” is really the “togetherness” that creates something bigger and more powerful or impactful. It is that togetherness in music that we focus on in this month’s A&C curated Series on the Music (ed) Matters Podcast (Episode 96).
This month’s A&C guest is Dr. Amy Williams, the Executive Director for the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra. Dr. Williams lives out her passion for the togetherness that comes with music through intentional community building, meaningful collaborations, and a mindset that any barrier can be squashed somehow. In a recent podcast conversation, we talked about how she went from being THAT kid who was swinging the flute on her stand to picking up a bassoon all the way to a DMA and how those degrees and experiences prepared her for massive success in the arts admin world. (There are some great interview tips at the end of the conversation, too – great for those pre-service teachers about to enter the workplace, check it out.)
Dr. Williams offers four steps to create your own “together in music” moments:
Step One: Take time to actually build community. It’s during this time that you develop the “who” and “why.” Dr. Williams suggests actually picking up the phone and making calls, taking time to meet and talk face-to-face when possible, and most importantly: “More listening than talking…that’s the big key to building a community.”
Step Two: Listen to the barriers (the why it isn’t happening or isn’t possible). During this phase, figure out the “where” and “what.” Barriers often include comments like “we’ve always done this” or “that has never happened.” This is your chance to get creative, ask more questions, and figure out how to “squash the why.” However, remember, nothing is perfect, but almost anything is possible with the right motivation and resources – especially if you’re listening. Dr. Williams joyously says, “Don’t be afraid to step on the why (not) and squash it!”
Step Three: Create meaningful collaborations. This means making (or finding the time) by connecting to your mission or vision. Dr. Williams was adamant when she said, “You don’t have time NOT to collaborate.” Collaborations don’t have to be all-consuming, figure out what can feasibly work for you.
Step Four: Use your skills in your favor. Use collaborations as a way to build impact, grow knowledge, and make intentional transfers. These are the moments to “fill the gap.” Dr. Williams explains this using her experiences interviewing and working a variety of arts administration jobs. She intentionally sought out opportunities and collaborations to use the skills she gained from her DMA to succeed in administrative positions. She had to be willing to ask questions and follow all the steps she just outlined to find long-term success.
What’s the point of all this? Like advocacy, collaboration isn’t about finding a one-size-fits-all solution or creating a stamp and repeating that over and over. Collaborations are organic, yet intentional, and need to align to mission, vision, and purpose. Meaningful collaborations begin like a seed, you must first build community, figure out the needs and barriers, develop solutions, and while acknowledging the skills you’re bringing to the table, also be willing to work with others to fill gaps and develop something bigger than just you. Collaboration is more than designing a party and asking another organization to bring the chips and dip…. it’s inviting the possible collaborators to the table, listening to their needs, and creating something together. Be willing to let go of the chips and dip my friends…you never know what amazing project is out there when you “squash the why (not)” through building community first. Patience pays off and we can’t wait to see what you end up creating!
Watch this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/SOT6gMEv-4k (or episode 96 on the “Music (ed) Matters” Podcast where ever you listen to pods).
Dr. Emily Williams Burch chairs ACDA’s Advocacy & Collaboration Committee. Dr. Burch has served in various positions for ACDA at the state, regional, national level in a variety of roles, including co-programming chair and honor choir coordinator for the Southern Region ACDA conferences since 2014. You can subscribe to her podcast for music educators wherever you get your podcasts, or at EmilyBurch.org/podcast.