Cross-Arts Collaboration


Tine Stolte, chair (Hanze University of Applied Sciences: Prince Claus Conservatoire Groningen)
Guy Wood (Hanze University of Applied Sciences: Prince Claus Conservatoire Groningen)
Niels Vermeulen (Hanze University of Applied Sciences: Prince Claus Conservatoire Groningen)
Jan Klug (Hanze University of Applied Sciences: Minerva Art Academy)
Berglind María Tómasdóttir (Iceland University of the Arts, Department of Music)
Sigurður Halldórsson (Iceland University of the Arts, Department of Music)
Karl Ágúst Þorbergsson (Iceland University of the Arts, Department of Performing Arts)
Christina Molander (Stockholm University of the Arts, Academy of Dramatic Arts)
Wilhelm Carlsson (Stockholm University of the Arts, University College of Opera)
Dietmar Flosdorf (University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna)
Nathalía Druzin Halldórsdóttir (Icelandic Opera)

Edited & coordinated by Þorgerður Edda Hall
Published in October 2018

This publication was supported by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained herein.


Launching the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership NAIP: Training Artists Without Borders and forming the working group to develop a cross-arts module, was a way of responding to needs that students in all the participating universities had expressed. As higher educational institutions in the fields of arts we also needed to acknowledge artists’ tendencies towards reaching out beyond their own discipline to create new art together with others in a collaborative way. In the field of fine art this has been a traditional way of working for a long time, for example by integrating performative elements in a piece of art. In the fields of music and theatre, the general attitude has been more conservative, where artists rather stick to their own discipline. Furthermore, Arts students in Europe, as well as in the rest of the world, are living in a reality where artistic institutions like theatres, concert houses, museums etc. are facing an increasingly painful economic situation. The decreasing official subsidies to traditional institutions opens up a whole new territory, where artists are challenged and inspired to find new societal contexts to present their art and engage with new audiences in new spaces. Moving the arts from traditional spaces and audiences has and will continue to develop and change ways of expression. The rapid technical developments in the recent years have facilitated the search for new arenas. Digital hardware and software becoming less expensive and more accessible, has encouraged and enabled artists to implement and communicate their art in new ways and reach out for new audiences. Social media and other digital distribution channels have made art more easily shared to an audience. This means that art is also shared amongst artists to a higher degree, inspiring them not only in their own work, but also encouraging them to seek collaboration. Being curious about the work of others is a powerful tool for an artist’s own development. Just as the field of fine art led the way to new forms of expression by becoming more interdisciplinary, the performing arts are now following the same path.

Overviewing this artistic landscape, one sees that:

  • Artists increasingly disregard borders between artistic disciplines. Sticking to the excellence of their own discipline does not seem to answer the artist’s need for innovation.

  • Artists call for collaboration not only within their own discipline but through crossing borders in art. The idea of the lonely artist creating his or her own Piece of Art is distant to many young artists that do not identify with the traditional aesthetical as well as ethical values.

  • Reaching out to new audiences through new media and creating art in new social settings is becoming increasingly important for young artists.

As art universities are inevitably teaching skills of their own discipline, teachers are excellent in guiding their students to a level of excellence. Though mobility among staff and students both nationally and internationally and academic dialogue is encouraged as strategically important for Higher Education, departments within art education rarely reach out to one another beyond their own disciplines. This tendency of compartmentalisation is not beneficial for supporting students’ desires to collaborate outside their own field. It leaves the students with having to search for informal ways of finding new artistic partners and new contexts for making art. Those informal collaborations might be very fruitful, but this way higher education institutions lose an opportunity to play an important role in the development of future art and artists. Furthermore, they are risking to lose relevance amongst young people, that are searching for new paths in art

Educational Challenges

The group’s primary focus, to create a cross-arts module, has been a truly interesting and challenging process for everyone involved. From the very first time the working group members, consisting of teachers and artists from universities within music, opera, theatre and fine arts, met in Groningen, we realised that our task ahead was a kind of a cross-arts project in itself. The group members were challenged to find a common language, dig into each other’s disciplines, get to know one another and start collaborating beyond their own artistic skills. This process will be described in detail further on in this report, pointing out traps and possible mistakes, but also indicating that cross-arts experiments can lead to artistic innovation, through unexplored pathways. All members of the working group are highly skilled in their own professional field. The challenge of the working group was therefore to find ways to use those skills in a creative way, but not to make art in the way we were used to within our own disciplines. In fact, from the very beginning, we consciously shifted the focus away from producing a result, to starting a dialogue. Our main questions were: How can we understand each other’s artistic work? How do we communicate to be able to work together? What skills from my own field can be supportive to this collaboration?

The term cross-arts became more complex and problematic along the process of working together. First of all, the term almost impossible to define. Secondly, the very need to define it immediately shifts our focus from process to result, falling in the trap of producing a formula, that the creators then have follow and expand on. Cross-arts happens in an unpredictable way, from the need for collaboration and curiosity about what others do. It is not a discipline in itself. It challenges our experience of making art. This happens by shifting our focus away from our skills, to our capacity to be creative within a new territory. In this new territory questions are raised, and answers are not easily found. Instead of using our field specific skills to create a piece of art according to our habits, working in a cross-arts setting means you are truly focused on content. Why are you doing art? Whom are you addressing? In which context do you want to communicate it? The idea of cross-arts is understood only from the very piece of art itself as it comes to life. It is defined by the moment an artist, or artists in collaboration, cross their own discipline borders to make art that is vibrant, alive and speaks to an audience, small or large.

Teaching cross-arts means moving away from teaching traditional artistic skills. The working group’s efforts have been to define what kind of skills are relevant for facilitating student work within a cross-art setting. It challenges the mind-set of many arts teachers, as it demands shifting the focus away from teaching disciplinary skills to exploring collaboration and content. In fact, it means moving away from teaching to coaching and mentoring, to facilitate the student’s own explorations.

Facilitating Student Cross-Arts Collaborations

At all the participating universities, students have expressed their need to work within a cross-art setting, collaborating and benefitting from the experience of other artists from other fields of art. This need is presented by students with extraordinary creativity and open-mindedness that goes beyond their own discipline. We therefore look upon this need to work within a cross-arts setting as an artistic one. However, the wish not to be alone with your art and – no less important – the wish to be able to live from your art making by reaching out to an audience, is also an inseparable part of this need. As mentioned before, the traditional (usually state subsidised) arenas for art are decreasing in numbers. Those that are left exist under increasingly painful economic circumstances, and new arenas for art have to be found or invented. This is a challenge proposed not only to young students but also to those who teach them. Therefore, cross-arts education does not only call for development and innovation within the arts, but also profoundly questions the societal context in which art is traditionally created and distributed. Furthermore, it challenges universities to develop new ways of teaching: preparing students for collaboration, crossing artistic borders and tackling the ever changing societal and political circumstances for art making.

Taking in consideration the challenge to teach and facilitate artistic work in a cross-arts setting, the working group has focused on the following questions:

  • How can we find ways for second cycle students from different artistic disciplines to come together and create art in a collaborative manner? How do we prepare the students for collaboration beyond discipline borders?

  • How do we teach if we are not teaching field specific skills?

  • What kind of experience in our own art making is valuable to students who are crossing artistic borders in art and don’t wish to be guided in their own discipline?

  • How do we incorporate the necessity to address new audiences and find new arenas for making and presenting art?

We have found that when creating a learning space for students to collaborate, it’s conditional that no art discipline, no professional role, no student is superior to the other. Anyone can take the lead, and leadership can be handed over with the main goal being to create art together. We have also found that shifting the focus away from traditional teaching to mentoring and coaching, asking questions instead of providing answers, has produced promising results. In this context, the collaboration with the mentoring working group of this Strategic Partnership, has been of great benefit in the process of developing a cross-arts module.

Cross-Arts, Second Cycle Education and Artistic Research

Artistic research and third cycle education in arts is increasingly becoming a driving force in the development of the arts. The coming years will tell if the academic field can grow to be a truly powerful development arena of the arts, to the benefit of the society as a whole. Artists searching for innovation find artistic research to be an increasingly attractive opportunity to explore and develop their artistic ideas. Artistic research is also becoming an arena for crossing borders in art. Theatre makers explore documentary film and media, opera researchers work close to theatre and dance, film makers use other media to find new audiences, fine arts meets video and performing arts, musicians use drama to engage with the audience. Again, we find that artists are not always defined by their discipline but rather to their field of research or artistry.

It seems that creating an educational environment that embodies cross-arts making in the second cycle education, will not only contribute to the change and innovation of the professional field, but may also encourage students to continue into third-cycle education, diving into artistic research.


The working group on cross-arts has made some valuable findings through the two years of work. But those findings consist equally of answers and questions that have to be further explored. Investigating and experimenting with creative collaborative learning approaches in a cross-arts context, has given students an opportunity to meet their artistic needs and discover the benefits of going beyond their discipline to create art. It has proved to be an opportunity to approach the inner core of creativity rather than reproductivity. Teachers have discovered the how cross-arts thinking frees creativity and challenges their teaching habits, not focusing on refining skills, but rather encouraging students to dig into their creativity. Gathering students and teachers from different universities, different departments and artistic fields has challenged the compartmentalisation within the participating institutions. Teachers with different backgrounds from various disciplines have collaborated and found ways to communicate beyond their skills and practice bound expertise.

The benefits of working in a cross-arts setting have been multiple: developing new perspectives, methods and skills, facilitating teamwork and collaboration, thus creating a strong artistic dynamic where no art form is predominant or in charge of the creative process. The project has encouraged students to experiment and enhanced their creative thinking and reflective practice by contextualizing the work in a broader context. Reflecting on how art can be understood by and communicated to an audience, when not locked up and identified by the discipline, are a vital part of this process. Reaching out to new groups, finding new social contexts and spaces for art can be a driving force and challenge in students’ art making. The cross-art working group has addressed the needs of students to have a broader set of skills in today’s professional environment to be able to create new art, interact with society and find new audiences. The emphasis on process and exploration rather than on the result connects the cross-arts education to the research field.

Beyond these discoveries and insights there is much to be developed further, as there exist no preconceived tools and methods for teaching in a cross-art setting. For some teachers it might be difficult to understand in what way students can benefit from their experience and knowledge when it is not connected to their traditional skills. It might even feel threatening to leave your field of expertise that has taken a life time of practise and training to achieve. Teaching in a cross-art setting requires a new mind-set, being able to communicate new aspects of your artistic knowledge and experiences, as well as finding new methods of teaching to strengthen the students’ cross-arts experiments.

For the students, the urge to go beyond their skills, claiming their artistic voice in collaboration with others, can produce a lot of stress and tensions that are not creative. How do we create an atmosphere of trust and democracy without giving up our own artistic personality? How do we encourage students not to move back to their comfort zone, doing what they always do, when feeling insufficient in the collaborative process? How do we mentor the students? How do we encourage and help them to find and explore the inner core of their artistic identity, while crossing borders never crossed before?

Creating new art also means creating new settings to present it. It has become more and more clear throughout the working process that including a social and audience aspect is crucial. If cross-arts means moving out of the traditional arenas such as concert halls, theatre- and opera houses to seek new audiences, what knowledge can support this search for new arenas?

Summing up

We have found that the cross-arts touches the inner core of art making. Crossing borders in art, moving away from your own discipline entering a new field of knowledge is inspiring, deeply connected to your creative mind but also unsafe, unpredictable and sometimes even frightening. After two years of working together, both staff and students, we haven’t yet seen the end of this journey into this new territory that cross-arts offers. Many questions have arisen, many are still there to be answered. We need to deepen our knowledge on how to navigate the landscape where traditional disciplinary skills are set aside. Through our work together, we have been a research community searching for meeting points of creativity and a common language. Both the findings and the challenges are of great interest from the educational perspective, but also in the context of the collaborative efforts between the universities. We look upon our project not only as beneficial to students, but also as an enrichment and important contribution to finding ways to collaborate across discipline borders as well as institutional borders. “The door that is now open cannot be closed” as the chairwoman of our working group, Tine Stolte put it during one of our meetings.