Effective communications materials and strategies creates a vital public presence, supports community engagement, and shares the positive impacts of the work. This helps build the value proposition for artists and municipalities to work together.

Promote the Project Across Sectors

These are some strategies for maximizing the strengths of both partners to contribute to robust external communications:

  • Inform and involve agency and/or City communications staff at an early stage to discuss strategies and put key project events on their radar. This can help build relationships and buy-in. It can be helpful to have communications staff on the core project team:
For artist Georgie Friedman’s Boston AIR project, the communications team at the partnering agency, the Department of Neighborhood Development, developed strategies to attract attention to her large-scale outdoor video projection. They created vinyl sidewalk stickers that include a prompt to Look Up!, a hashtag, and a URL. They also designed postcards that were translated into English, Spanish, and Cape Verde Creole, posters, and social media-ready graphics.
  • Involve artists in developing communications messages and strategies. Artists can be good at crafting accessible language, metaphors, images, and other messaging that captures public imagination and encapsulates the nature of the work.
“One of my skills as an artist is re-purposing things. ‘Communications campaigns’ are opportunities for murals, posters, or comic books.” Elizabeth Hamby, Artist/NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
  • Artists’ connections to arts and social media networks can reach audiences the municipal agency can’t. Artists may also have connections to arts or community journalists and other writers who can cover the project.
  • Hire professional communications expertise when capacity is needed, especially for long-term or large-scale projects. For the Fargo Project, the communications consultant created an ongoing outreach campaign in order to keep community interest and participation during the periods when design and construction was happening behind the scenes.
  • Ensure that the communications team has an understanding of civically engaged art and the nature of M/A partnerships.
In one M/A program, the communications firm was experienced in promoting arts events and performances but lacked understanding of the process-oriented nature of the artist’s community-centered work. As a result, promotion efforts fell short in getting press coverage.
“We gave our communications specialist permission not just to use a formulaic or technical approach but to... collaborate with the artists. We asked them to explore with the project team and work creatively.” Nicole Crutchfield, planner, City of Fargo

Reflect and Support Partnership Values and Goals

Community engagement strategies can enhance communications approaches in support of project goals. These include:

  • Include community partners in developing communications strategies to effectively reach their constituents.
  • Consult with the municipality’s Community Engagement division, if they have one. They can provide insights from their experience, community contacts, and more.
  • Seek out multiple perspectives on the issue or place from community stakeholders, and incorporate this diversity of viewpoints into communications.
  • Pursue neighborhood news channels, community bloggers, local newspapers and newsletters, and social media. These can be more effective than mainstream media to reach community members at a hyper-local level, for example within a neighborhood or a housing community.
  • Civic journalism approaches that invite community members to write articles, participate in podcasts, or share their own documentary photography or video, give voice to community perspectives.

It’s also important that communications are accessible, culturally appropriate, and relevant to diverse audiences which could include community members, municipal staff, public officials, civic leaders, arts professionals, and non-English speakers. Consider:

  • Framing and language. The way an issue is framed affects how it’s received by people with different perspectives, and whether they choose to participate. For example one stakeholder might frame a neighborhood development issue as “gentrification,” and another could talk about it in terms of “safety.”
  • Aesthetic. What visual or sensory forms will the target community respond to? These could be specific to a cultural or place-based identity.
  • Content relevance. In developing a publication to tell the complete story of the Fargo Project, an outside consultant created a publication that is both useful and accessible to a range of readers from city planners to artists and community members. It effectively describes and illustrates the artistic, civic, and community engagement processes and offers well-articulated lessons learned.

Chester Made is a partnership between the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the City of Chester PA, a local university, arts organizations, and local artists. It aimed to contribute to a new public narrative for Chester that would counter one focused on a distressed economy, a high rate of violence, and other negative aspects. Partners sought a phrase that would serve this purpose. They settled on Chester Made, which riffs on a local saying “What Chester Makes Makes Chester.” The marketing and engagement campaign involved a rebranding initiative that aimed to create a greater sense of pride among residents, and counter negative press and stereotypes from outside. Local artist Devon Walls designed a Chester Made logo featuring a landmark bridge and the positive phrase “Trusted Brand”. It was used on T-shirts, buttons, and other promotional items which were popular among residents, and kept the project in the public eye. See this report for more on Chester Made.

Create a Compelling Message

What kind of memorable impressions, meaningful take-aways, “sticky” images or stories will help the project live in people’s minds and hearts? What language will people relate to or not? Some considerations include:

  • Determine core messages that could promote:
    • Solutions to a problem, for example, eliminating traffic deaths.
    • Shifting public perception, for example changing a negative narrative around the city or government.
    • Opportunities to work side by side with an artist.
  • Establish talking points that amplify the core messages. These could emphasize:
    • How the partnership aligns with municipal goal and priorities.
    • The common goals of the partnership and what each partner brings to it.
    • Responses to anticipated questions from stakeholders and communities such as: Why are we spending money on this and not fixing potholes? What does art have to do with public health? Why are we hiring an artist from outside the community?
    • Counter prevailing narratives about art and artists. For example, that the arts are elite or that artists bring gentrification. Emphasize if an artist is local; or that an outside artist can bring a unique approach or relevant viewpoint to address the goals of the project.

Nashville’s Restorative Arts program, in which trained teaching artists work with court-involved youth, developed these talking points for the question “Why art and artists?”

  • Every child deserves to have access to the arts no matter their situation or circumstance.
  • Children who use their time constructively are less likely to get into trouble.
  • Deep sustained arts interaction helps children to develop their executive reasoning skills and thus their capacity to make better choices.
  • Building relationships with stable, trustworthy adults helps children feel safe, feel empowered, and learn to expect positive things from themselves.
  • We believe that participation in the arts helps children become more resilient, gives them positive values, and helps them build a positive self-identity.
  • Embrace challenge points as illuminating learning moments. An M/A project can be successful in many ways, but as a city agency leader said, “it can’t be all hero stories.” Take care not to gloss over or sanitize challenging issues. In fact, transparency can build appreciation for the complexity of the work and even curiosity and interest in it. Demonstrating honesty and vulnerability can help build public trust.
  • Generate multiple story angles that speak to the diverse dimensions, audiences, and intentions of the partnership and project. These could include:
    • How artists work. For example, their creative and community engagement processes, their artmaking techniques and practices, and how their approach is distinctive.
    • Community partners and participants. The community context and conditions addressed by the project; who is involved and what their roles are; and expected or experienced project impacts.
    • Phases of a project, especially for long-term projects, so that the public knows about and anticipates events and activities.

Challenges and Strategies


Municipal rules, procedures, protocols, and priorities for communications can seem onerous but are usually set up for good reason. Rules can require communications consistency, fact-checking, controlling messaging, and managing controversy. Communications can include anything from correspondence to blogging or communicating with the media.


  • Orient artists to agency guidelines regarding contact with media, speaking on behalf of the project or partnership, and what approvals are required for promotional activities.
  • Some agencies must rigorously maintain anonymity and confidentiality of the people they serve, for example court-involved youth or victims of domestic abuse. Artists need to be aware of and follow these restrictions.
  • Municipal communications departments are constantly juggling priorities in terms of what needs timely attention in the media. Artists should be aware that sometimes a communication about their event might get bumped.
  • Communications rules might not always support the best interests of the partnership or project. Agencies should assess these and inform artists and community partners of when or how regulations will affect their efforts to promote the project.
  • Controversies, emergencies, or other disruptions in a project can create the need for a different communications strategy, whether or not the controversy is directly related or contextual. Partners should openly discuss the implications and possible actions. Be aware that municipalities typically have strict protocols for who serves as spokesperson and creating talking points.


Ethical communication practices need to be considered, affecting what and how sensitive material is handled, and how partners are credited.


  • Some things may not be appropriate to share publicly, for example, an artist’s work with staff or community members on sensitive internal issues. On the other hand, a municipality that has declared a commitment to transparency, in for example, issues of racial equity, should communicate what it’s doing and how, and what kind of progress or challenges it is experiencing. Protecting the privacy of community participants is also critically important.
  • Partners should ensure that the artist is consulted on and approves of how their work is represented, including in printed and online promotional materials and presentations; and should also define how the work with the municipality is represented by the artist. You can lay out guidelines for this in the contract.
  • In a good partnership, each partner should credit the other appropriately. This applies to communications directly related to the project and whenever or wherever the project is presented One artist was dismayed when he was invited to and shared ideas at a city brainstorming meeting, only later to hear those ideas replayed in other contexts without crediting him.