“C is for…” Creative Messaging Through the Arts

If I ask what “C is for,” many of you reading this would probably respond by recalling the lyrics of Cookie Monster’s famous song. Throughout history, from the cave wall to the Facebook wall, art has forged connections by communicating specific ideas and emotions in a relatable, memorable way. The idea that art can be used not only to entertain, but also to communicate important messages, has been demonstrated effectively by educational children’s television shows. Numerous studies over the years have shown that children who watched Sesame Street programming outperformed their peers in English, math, and science, and had more positive attitudes toward school.

Just as Sesame Street uses the arts to effectively communicate messages to children, the arts are a valuable communications tool for businesses. In Americans for the Arts’ latest essay in The pARTnership Movement essay series, we explore how the arts can help businesses advance corporate objectives and convey strategic messages to customers, employees, shareholders, and others.

Colorado Educational Theatre Program’s college interns tackle the obesity crisis with the play, Health Team 4. Photo by Ricardo CasillasToday’s businesses are operating in an age where corporate trust and transparency is more crucial—and break-through messaging is harder to achieve–than ever before. Earlier this year, ABI research predicted that the average monthly data consumed per wireless subscriber will increase from 445 megabytes in 2014 to 2,289 megabytes by 2019. And, according to data solutions provider Return Path, marketing communications accounted for 70 percent of spam complaints in 2012. In order to be heard, businesses must not only communicate, but also entertain and engage.

Taking a page from the Sesame Street playbook, nonprofit health plan Kaiser Permanente uses the arts to convey to children the importance of living healthy lives. The company has a strategic mission to go beyond protecting the health of its members to bolster the health of entire communities in which it operates. To act on this mission, it partnered with Oregon Children’s Theatre to create performances that address obesity prevention and other health issues. As a result of this collaboration, Kaiser Permanente communicates important health messages in an engaging way, and the hope is that the students will share what they’ve learned with their families, ultimately strengthening their communities. In 2013, the Educational Theatre Program served over 50,000 school children and over 3,000 educators and community members in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington through touring productions, workshops, artists-in-residence and other interactive theatrical experiences.

Why are the arts so effective in communicating health messages? According to the University of Florida’s Center for Arts in Medicine, “Through culturally and personally relevant narratives, the arts engage people emotionally. The arts utilize cognitive and emotional structures to facilitate dialogue. The dramatic arts, in particular, can portray health related scenarios with realism and in ways that apply to everyday life.  Familiar scenarios and characters that elicit empathy spur audience members to consider their own realities and make new choices.” 

Bank of America chandelier photo from NortonEdwards.comRegardless of the industry, audience, or message, the arts are an effective tool not only for helping to convey messages, but also for inspiring action. On Earth Day this past April, as part of Bank of America’s Recycle Now initiative, Bank of America and New York City-based arts nonprofit chashama showcased chandeliers made of recyclables that were found in the trash cans around Bank of America’s office at One Bryant Park. Christopher Trujillo, a chashama artsist, used paper, plastic bottles, and food containers in his creation of the pieces to inspire Bank of America employees to recycle and reduce waste. At the six bank offices participating in the Recycle Now initiative, employees increased recycling rates an average of 14%.

As John Dewey says in Art as Experience, “Communication is not announcing things, even if they are said with the emphasis of great sonority. Communication is the process of creating participation.” Businesses seeking to connect with constituents in a way that truly resonates, turn to the arts. “[Art] enables us to share vividly and deeply in meanings…art breaks through the barriers that divide.”

To learn more about how businesses can partner with the arts to effectively advance corporate objectives and convey strategic messages, read our latest essay, and view other case studies on pARTnershipMovement.org. Also, check out the rest of The pARTnership Movement essay series to learn how businesses are recruiting and retaining talent, putting themselves in the spotlight, and fostering an innovative workforce by partnering with the arts.

How are businesses in your community partnering with artists and nonprofit organizations to advance objectives and convey strategic messages? We want to hear from you. Share your story with us via email at pARTnership@artsusa.org or on Twitter using #ArtsandBiz and tagging @Americans4Arts

The essay profiled in this blog is the fourth in a series of essays being published in conjunction with The pARTnership Movement. These case studies profile successful business-arts partnerships from across the nation and the benefits to those businesses by way of engaging employees, enhancing their brand, and building vibrant communities.