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Public relations = public awareness.

For the arts, maintaining high visibility means promoting a positive image through a successful public relations program. When something good or exciting is happening in the art program, the community should definitely know about it. There is no substitute for publicizing all the right things the program does. It's especially useful to do so today when public education as a whole is under attack. You know your program is doing a fine job, and you want to spread the good word. But how?

I have been involved in the art program for eighteen years in the public schools of North Haven, Connecticut as a teacher and administrator. I have implemented a number of techniques to promote art through public relations. Some of these techniques are not new, but they have been effective.

Art in the boardroom

Most decisions about the local art program are not always made by the art teachers--especially in areas such as budget, classroom space or personnel. These decisions are usually made by school boards, administrators, business managers and superintendents of schools. If we as art educators want favorable decisions concerning our programs, then educational decision-makers must know something about them. What better way to communicate with these decision-makers than to make student art visible to them through a rotating monthly art exhibit in the board of education conference room or the administration building?

Advanced independent art students are invited to prepare a statement about their artwork and exhibit their work in a one-person art show in the boardroom. This approach made board members, administrators and parents aware of the students' creative abilities and the importance of our program in North Haven.

Exhibits: the avenue to learning

Exhibits are a means of informing the public about an art program even if they are not covered by the mass media. Exhibits can be set up in public schools, bank lobbies, department store windows, local museums or any building visited by large numbers of people.

A word of caution. When artwork is displayed for the public, its purpose should relate to why it is prepared for exhibition. Have an informative statement about the growth of the art program or the exhibit typed and ready for distribution. The presentation should enhance both the work itself and the viewing experience.

In recent years, North Haven elementary art teachers have attempted to upgrade their exhibits by using a large local gallery that requires works on paper to be matted and provides a brochure listing each student's name and title of work, similar to procedures followed in professional galleries. As a result, the parents and the public have come to recognize the value of the art program in the lives of their children, and have pride in their children's accomplishments in art.

The descriptive flyer

Plans are being made to design a public relations brochure for the elementary and secondary art programs. This flyer will promote more successful communications about our program between teachers, parents, students, administrators and the North Haven community.

This descriptive flyer will present the art department's philosophy, course offerings and accomplishments. Photos of students at work and their completed projects will enhance the flyer. A special section will offer quotes and support testimony about the value of art education from such public figures as Elliot Eisner, Viktor Lowenfeld and David Rockefeller Jr., as well as quotes from the students themselves.

The public relations flyer will be designed to open into a poster which can be hung on display in the educational departments, counselors' and principals' offices. P.T.A. meetings, community exhibitions and other groups or public functions can help to circulate the brochure.

Flyers such as the one described here can be printed in one of the local school print shops or, if funds are available, by commercial printers.

Art awareness and career day

Communicating with a wide range of audiences provides a means of sharing information and opportunities to convey program values and needs to highly influential audiences. Art education cannot be restricted to the classroom and to students alone; it must extend to parents, colleagues, administrators and the larger community.

Art Awareness and Art Career Days are the perfect opportunities to high light art education. In North Haven, local craftspeople, artists, business and college representatives, art educators, and media specialists have been invited to participate in Art and Career Fairs. Demonstrations of art activities with students showing art techniques to the public and slide shows were probably as effective as exhibits in presenting information to the community and other students. A special "balloon launch" with a videotape of the entire event publicized the day's exhibits.

Mini-art museum in the school library

Tapping community resources resulted in the organization of a mini-museum located in the North Haven elementary school library. Through the mini-museum program, we invited local artists to exhibit their work on a monthly basis in the school library. The exhibiting artists gave presentations, slide shows and lectures on the closing Friday of each exhibit. The public was invited to participate.

An interview by a reporter from the local newspaper, and videotaping by the school media specialist assured the artist of greater community exposure and became an added incentive.

Youth art month exhibits

A Youth Art Month Exhibit can be an annual opportunity to emphasize the value of art education for all students and to encourage public advocacy for quality programs. A program such as Youth Art Month also provides an opportunity to inform the public that art education develops self-esteem, a sense of pride in self-expression, an appreciation of the work of others and the ability to cooperate with others.

In the development of such a program, opportunities arose to work with local merchants, art guilds, libraries and various community organizations in planning special activities to enhance its observance. Youth Art Month activities have greatly helped to strengthen and expand art department staff, facilities and budgets. It is of great importance to draw the taxpayers' attention to the quality programs in your community and Art Month can help.

Permanent art collection

The local Parent Teachers Association can become your best source of support. Make proposals to them that include sponsorship of a permanent art collection for your school. Propose the establishment of framing student work annually and/or the purchasing of two- or three-dimensional museum art reproductions for a permanent collection. The location of this collection is very critical. Consideration should be given to the administrative offices, the main hallway and the library.

Working in isolation is a major concern that art educators face in the educational system. We need to network with others to establish the fact that art teachers are professional people. The issue of communicating and educating our colleagues and superiors about the value of our art program rests directly on us.

Some consideration should be given to the following: producing an arts newsletter that is distributed to every member of the school community; establishing an art teachers speakers bureau that would give lectures, presentation and demonstrations to the local P.T.A. groups within the school system; and developing an annual art exhibit of the art faculty's work in your town.

The North Haven Art Program has gained significant financial and public support as a result of our public relations efforts. We are able to provide a sequentially based visual art and art history program, kindergarten through twelfth grade, with a certified art specialist working in an appropriate facility.

In every school, everyday, art teachers must demonstrate the value of their subject. Our collective interaction must be directed to translating the language of art to our colleagues within the educational system and at each level of school authority. We must reach out to include parents and the greater community in our efforts.

Ann Cappetta is art coordinator for the town of North Haven, Connecticut.
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Author:Cappetta, Ann
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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