Public awareness efforts must be ongoing. The success of advocacy, in particular, is directly related to your ability to cultivate policy makers and elected officials throughout the year and over time. Every opportunity that you have to talk or write about the benefits of your arts and aging program is an opportunity to increase public awareness.
Conduct your program. Just the act of conducting a program increases public awareness among participants and their friends, family members, and caregivers. Performances and exhibits, in particular, inform these groups and the public in general about the capabilities of older adults, helping to dispel myths of aging. Intergenerational performances reinforce the values of collaboration and community.
Create synergy among program components.
In designing the program, consider how to maximize the public awareness potential of each activity. Ensure that participants, partners, funders, and facility and organization staff get something that they want—the classic “win-win”—but don’t compromise your principles or lose sight of your goals. A performance of an older adult choir can be a recruitment tool for the senior center where rehearsals are held. Poetry created by participants in a writing program at the library can be featured in the quarterly newsletter from a member of Congress to demonstrate his or her connection to this constituency and support of library funding. Publishing an anthology of this same poetry would be a good opportunity for a reception in honor of program participants; a public presentation of the book to elected officials; and a showcase of library services to the broader community.
Program Example: Creating Synergy
The Foundation for Quality Care’s Art from the Heart program is a visual arts competition among residents of long-term care facilities. The winners’ works illustrate a calendar, and additional top selections are framed for exhibition. These pieces are loaned to state-level elected officials to be displayed prominently in their offices. Each politician who participates has to pick up the work of art from the facility in which the older adult artist resides. The facility creates a celebratory event around this visit and invites members of the media to attend.
Meanwhile, the calendars are distributed widely to all elected officials and within all relevant state departments, such as health and human services. This practice personalizes residents not only to policy makers, but also to lobbyists and department staff, thus raising awareness.
Document your program and related events. Useful in marketing and evaluation, photographs and videos of participants provide a permanent visual record with many different uses. Images are powerful. Focus on capturing how your program benefits participants. Invest in quality by hiring a professional photographer or videographer. Remember that digital images should be 300 DPI (dots per inch) to be clear and crisp when printed or 72 DPI for your Web site. Be sure to obtain written permission from participants before visually documenting the program.
Program Example: Using a Program to Increase Public Awareness
The creators of the Arts and Inspiration Center set up one-time groups in various settings such as retirement communities, senior housing, churches, and physicians’ offices. By participating in these groups, individuals learned about the actual programs at the centers. At the senior high-rise, for example, interested residents joined a sample Memories in the Making group, which they found enjoyable and meaningful, dispelling misconceptions of suitable activities for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. The residents’ experience also catalyzed conversation about the importance of early diagnosis. In the physician’s office, staff and nurses participated and subsequently referred patients to the centers. 112
Ask participants and partners to speak on your behalf or write letters of support. Prepare a draft of the letter for the signer to edit. Similarly, write talking points for people to use in their presentations. (See Appendix 3 for sample letters of support)
Provide visibility to elected officials and other funders. You don’t want your only interaction with funders to be as a supplicant. In addition to scheduling meetings just to share good news or to thank them for their community activism on behalf of older adults and the arts, invite them to the community sharing of the art created by program participants and the related celebration. Be sure to ask them to say a few words. If you have a newsletter, ask them to write a column.
Leave something behind. Permanent visual art exhibits and CDs or DVDs of performances are good ways to display tangible evidence of your arts and aging program. Another option is for participants to create art that becomes part of a building. In a program of SPIRAL Arts, Inc., for example, older adults designed and made mosaic floor numbers to be installed next to the elevators in their independent living building in Portland, Maine. Their functional artwork is a permanent reminder to all residents of the value of the arts.
Talk with the media. “Friend-raising” applies to journalists as well as funders. Cultivate journalists year-round and push your message. There is much good news to share about the benefits of arts and aging programs. Journalists respond to human-interest stories. In general, they are more likely to pay attention if major media outlets have already published pieces on arts and aging.
No matter what methods you choose, be persistent. If you want a funder or community leader to speak on your behalf or attend an event, don’t assume that a “no” means that he or she is not interested; perhaps there is just a schedule conflict. Keep extending the invitation, and explore other options for his or her involvement with your program.
Remember that the quality of your materials and presentations matters. Not only do the print pieces transmit your values and professionalism, but they also attract attention. Audiences will want to read something that looks good and listen to a message that is delivered effectively.