Collaborating Across Artistic Borders

The module presented below is the outcome of the development work of the cross-arts working group in the strategic partnership NAIP – Training Artists without Borders 2016-2018. This outcome is based on the two-year dialogue in the working group, as well as the members’ broad experience of artistic practice and teaching in various fields of arts. The foundation for the module framework derives from two intensive programmes that were offered to students and staff of the participating institutions.

Furthermore, the development of this course is based on the numerous years of collaboration between the NAIP institutions and their partners, from the beginning of the NAIP Master Programme and the first intensive Programme held in 2010. Through two rounds of Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships new partners have joined the consortium. In the last two years the focus has been to develop the course into a venue for cross-arts collaboration for students.

During our two-year project we have found out that the term cross-arts collaboration is open for interpretation. Cross-arts collaboration happens in an unpredictable way from the need for collaboration and curiosity of what others do. A learning environment that supports critical reflection, open-mindedness and inquiry may encourage students to start exploring and developing their work through artistic research.

Through the two-year development work, we discovered that presenting a formula for cross-arts collaboration and teaching would not be appropriate in this context. Cross-arts is not a discipline in itself. It is a way of working that challenges our experience of making art. Despite this we have identified a few factors, that we have found helpful in the development of our example of a cross-arts module. This is not a method for successful implementation of cross-arts teaching, but rather some elements we find useful, when traditional skills are set aside in order to collaborate across artistic borders.

Useful Elements for Cross-Arts Collaboration

Based on intensive programmes focusing on cross-arts collaboration in the strategic partnership NAIP – Training Artists without Borders 2016-2018

Learning Environment

The combination of participants is an important factor for the learning environment. It is helpful that the group is diverse and includes both students and staff from various fields of arts. This increases the opportunities for new challenges and learning across disciplines.  

Bringing students and staff together on a location outside their institution can create a stimulating learning environment. This can evoke creative inspirations and longing to explore. The intensive nature of the module and the fact that all participants are away from home, provides common ground and creative space for focused dialogue and exchange across artistic disciplines, countries and institutions.

A few points that are worth keeping in mind when working cross-arts: 

  • Cross-arts experiments can lead to artistic innovation through unexplored pathways.

  • No art discipline, no professional role, no student/teacher is predominant or in charge of the creative process.

  • Anyone can take the lead and leadership can be handed over with the main goal of creating art together.

Teachers are encouraged to ask questions, explore collaboration and content, focus on coaching and mentoring to facilitate the students’ own explorations. They are discouraged from providing students with answers, teaching disciplinary skills and focusing on refining field specific skills.

Teachers are encouraged to reflect on questions such as:

  • How do I teach when I am not teaching field specific skills?

  • What kind of experience in my 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 can I facilitate the students through contextualizing their work in a broader context?

  • How can I create an atmosphere of trust and democracy where no participant has to give up their artistic personality?

  • How can I encourage students not to move back to their comfort zone, doing what they always do, when feeling insufficient in the collaborative process?

  • How can I mentor the students?

  • How can I encourage and help the students to find and explore the inner core of their artistic identity, while navigating new territories?

  • How can I encourage the students to seek new audiences, new social contexts and search for new arenas for their art?

Students are encouraged to focus on starting a dialogue, being curious about what others do, and explore collaboration, rather than focusing on producing a result.


The programme consists of intensive workshops, LAB work, mentoring, reflective LABs and daily staff meetings. Although no emphasis is put on creating finished artistic products, the LAB groups share their process and work at one or more moments during the module. The final day of the module is dedicated to a Reflection LAB aiming for supporting students’ critical reflection and contextualization.


The key purpose of the workshops is to:

  • Give participants an opportunity to get to know each other.

  • Establish an atmosphere of trust, safety and democracy.

  • Inspire and facilitate an open mind-set.

  • Start a collaborative dialogue.

  • Encourage participants to set their field-specific skills aside and focus on collaboration.

The workshops are led by the participating faculty, and deal with topics such as collaboration, developing concepts, documenting artistic processes, community engagement, connecting art to a local context, and exploring how to interact with and engage audiences.


The LAB is a creative collaborative platform where participants can collectively realise their ideas. It is a space to make, experiment, mix & match and develop new work. It is a space to revise, reinterpret, regenerate and reintegrate old work. Participants are encouraged to open up their LABs to share their process with others. LAB participants consist of both students and faculty.

The biggest challenge when working in cross-arts LAB groups, is not to let one discipline be dominant in the process. The participants must meet on common ground and explore concepts away from their artistic expertise.

Mentoring & Reflection

The objectives for implementing mentoring in the programme is to create critical awareness, a sense of understanding and a conversation about the meaning, purpose and relevance of the collaborative process.

Critical reflection or reflective practice is a process where the student brings his own (internalised) knowledge to the fore.

Further reading:

Staff meetings

Daily staff meetings serve as a platform for sharing and peer-mentoring. The meetings can be used to discuss issues such as learning processes, collaboration, facilitation and support to students.


Even though the focus should be on the collaborative process and not a result, it can be helpful for the LAB groups to share their explorations with each other. This can lead to a fruitful dialogue and constructive feedback, bring forwards different perspectives, as well as new insights and ideas.

The sharing can take various shapes, and can happen more than once through the process.