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The journey towards shared services and operational collaboration

Jenna Williams and Jade Lillie talk about Arts West, an alliance of arts organisations operating under a shared service model in Melbourne's west suburbs

Speak to anyone working in an arts organisation and, aside from the joy of producing great art, the one experience we all share is a sense of being under-resourced and over-committed. It’s tough running an organisation on limited budgets and arts workers need to be innovative, collaborative and resourceful to get their work out to the public.

It is this attitude that has led to the formation of Arts West, a unique alliance of eight arts organisations in Melbourne’s west who are collaborating to better understand and engage with the diverse audiences and therefore, communities across the region. 

Established through a Creative Victoria (Collaborative Arts Marketing) initiative to encourage organisations to work together to build sustainability, Arts West has brought together Footscray Community Arts Centre; children’s literacy organisation, 100 Story Building; community arts and cultural festival, Big West; giant puppet company, Snuff Puppets; Newport arts and creation space, The Substation; Cohealth Arts Generator; Western Edge Youth Theatre; and Women’s Circus

While artform, capacity and organisational structure varies across the eight members, each of these organisations operate within a context of offering high quality arts experiences that are deeply rooted in community. We are also fortunate to exist within one of the most culturally diverse and fastest growing regions in Australia with over 130 cultural groups and 150 languages represented. Through Arts West we aim to build audiences across this region while strengthening the capacity of our organisations.

Like everything worthwhile, forming Arts West has not been without its challenges and perhaps the greatest was also the most important aspect of the initiative: collaboration. With some organisations having very few or only one full-time staff member, available time was a barrier to participation and so the Arts West model has evolved to ensure the capacity to take part is supported, while the objectives of the alliance are still kept in focus. 

Our three focus areas are:  

  • Audiences
  • Advocacy
  • Sustainability

All projects and initiatives are based around these areas and we deliver the work through a semi-formal structure:

  • Executive Team:  3 – 4 members (responsible for strategy and investment)
  • Project Teams:  2 – 3 members (including Executive Member)
  • Consultants/Specialists
  • Formal meetings:  bi-monthly
  • Informal meetings:  bi-monthly (we invite staff across all organisations to these)
  • Annual Strategy/Planning/Reflection:  externally facilitated

By collectively reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, we have designed the Arts West model to be responsive, flexible and efficient.  Each organisation contributes an annual fee of $1200 to participate in the alliance whilst assuming responsibility for one or more project teams across the year.

The benefits of the Arts West collaboration are multiple. Professional development has been a key part of the Arts West offer as we identify learning opportunities and engage appropriate experts to run training sessions. These opportunities have also provided an income source and networking opportunities as we open up to other organisations to participate. 

We have achieved significant audience development outcomes by holding media events, developing cross-organisational audience offers and engaging the services of a publicist on a retainer basis. The alliance also made public statements in response to the recent federal government arts funding cuts.

Most beneficial though, is the achievement of a deeper understanding of each other’s work. We now have a network of colleagues who we can draw on for support, knowledge and inspiration. Through Arts West we have shared best practice approaches to organisational operation, marketing successes and failures, our audiences, and even, in the case of two organisations, a marketing and communications manager. 

The Arts West alliance has strengthened our approaches to collaboration and most importantly, our value to our audiences and communities. 


Arts West is generously funded by Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Gandel Philanthropy.  Creative Victoria was a founding investor.

Photo of Jenna WilliamsJenna Williams is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Footscray Community Arts Centre, a leading community-engaged arts organisation working with local, regional and international communities. Passionate about the role of arts contributing to social change, she is also a co-founder of 100 Story Building, a social enterprise and writing centre dedicated to providing creative writing opportunities to marginalised children and young people in Melbourne’s west.




Jade LillieJade Lillie, Director  & CEO of Footscray Community Arts Centre, is an experienced community cultural development practitioner, arts executive, educator and facilitator. Jade has lived and worked extensively in regional and remote indigenous and non-indigenous communities, both nationally and internationally, and worked in a variety of government and non-government contexts including: Education Queensland, NT Department of Education and Training, Arts Queensland, Brisbane City Council and Contact Inc.



Banner image: Courtesy Arts West.