Program Perspective: Collaboration Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum

By Irina Zeylikovich

Partnering with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Oakland Museum of California, and The Marine Mammal Center, my colleague at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and I are looking forward to diving into the delicate art of museum collaboration at this year’s Western Museums Association (WMA) 2015 Annual Meeting in San Jose, California.

During our panel, Whose Program Is It Anyway? Effective Development Collaboration Within and Across Museums, each of our Bay Area organizations will share specific examples when collaboration had an impact on programmatic outcomes and benefitted development efforts. The panel will also discuss strategies and tool that can pave the way for collaboration.

But before we get to the panel, I’d like to use this blog post explore why this topic gets so much attention. Why do we work with others—within our museums and beyond them—when it can be challenging to make schedules align, ensure everyone is on the same page, and using the same metrics and language? One nonprofit blogger summed it up nicely (albeit while discussing cross-sector collaboration): “The challenges we as a society are facing increase exponentially, and the resources that we have with which to tackle these problems pretty much remain the same or [are] decreasing. The gap between needs and resources grows by the day. To have a chance of building the community that we envision, all the sectors must be BFFs.” Furthermore, when it comes to donor requests, most fundraisers are not subject matter experts, nor are many program staff inherent fundraisers. We need each other, and ours can be a symbiotic relationship.

I believe this holds true within and across museums, as well as across sectors. When I discuss the Bay Area museum landscape with funders, I talk about a museum pipeline. The Bay Area Discovery Museum, which focuses on children ages 0 to 8, can be one starting point. We get children interested in interdisciplinary learning and start building a museum-going culture in our audiences. We can be a “feeder museum” to other institutions as our visitors get older and graduate from our exhibits and programs onto other fantastic cultural institutions.

This pipeline doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It begins within each museum, with staff working together to implement engaging programs that draw donor support that in turn enables the programs to reach new levels or reach more people. Once that process is in place within our institutions (regardless of whether the motivation stemmed from donor guidelines requesting collaboration or a realization that if we bring the right group of people together we can all play to our strengths to be more effective), we can also create linkages in the pipeline by working with other organizations.

Henry Ford is credited with saying, “coming together is a beginning; keeping together is a process; working together is success.” We hope you will join us on Monday, October 26,, 2015 in the Glen Ellen room to learn about four Bay Area museums and our stories and strategies for collaboration and success, and to engage in a fruitful discussion with other museum staff.

Growing up in San Francisco, Irina loved museum field trip days, so it is only fitting that she began her career as an Explainer at the Exploratorium and continued in public programs at the newly reopened California Academy of Sciences. There she transitioned into institutional development to be able to support the Academy’s diverse efforts, and found development to be an excellent career path to support the organizations she holds in such high esteem. She completed her undergraduate and graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley and University of Michigan, respectively. She is currently working to ignite and advance creative thinking for all children as the Senior Manager of Foundation and Government Relations at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito.



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