One Billboard Brings a Community Together

Even though no budget cuts had been proposed in this area, these music educators in suburban Pittsburgh (PA) saw the writing on the wall of music education nationwide. Instead of waiting to react, they proactively took out a billboard to promote music in our schools. Could this work in your area? Read on to find out the how-to of "preventative maintenance" for school music before cuts are threatened in your area.

Westmoreland CountyIn September, a few weeks before our annual Westmoreland County Music Educators Association meeting, I was contacted by Tom Whytsell at Olympus Media. His wife is a music educator at Southmoreland School District and both Tom and Megan were concerned about the loss of music jobs in the state of Pennsylvania, as well as negative teacher billboard ads that were appearing in our area. Tom, through Olympus Media, offered to donate the space and artwork for the ad campaign, the organization just had to pay for the sign vinyl.

Several years previous, WCMEA wanted to start their own ad campaign, but were unable due to the high costs involved in the process. The membership quickly agreed that this was a good idea and formed a committee at the meeting. Our committee was given the task to come up with a good slogan. After many “reply all” e-mails, we decided the best course of action was to run a contest that would involve all the students in Westmoreland County. The winner would not only have their slogan appear on the billboard, but also their image if their parents approved. We ran the contest from October through November. I was amazed at the quality and quantity of submissions I received. Many teachers used this contest in their lesson plans, having their students come up with a slogan and even a billboard design.

The committee met to choose the winner over Thanksgiving break and we had a really difficult time choosing a winner: a fourth grade general music student from Sunrise Estates Elementary (Penn-Trafford School District, PA). We really liked the positive message in Joey Basista’s slogan “Music is Medicine for the Mind.”  We felt that it reminded anyone who drove by that music is not just an add-on or special, but it truly makes a difference in the development of our children.

Westmoreland BillboardThroughout the next month, we worked together with Olympus Media to create the artwork and a local photographer, Elizabeth Alcorn, made two trips out to Joey’s home and school to capture just the right image. We were so grateful to have services donated by Olympus media and a greatly reduced photography rate from Windsong Photography.

The billboard went up at the end of January and will stay up indefinitely.  It started in South Greensburg, but is moving to Delmont because Olympus sold that spot. They will keep our billboard up on an unsold board as long as possible (it just needs to be the same size as the vinyl we have now).  I have not yet received any feedback from the general public, but I know our membership is thrilled with the results.

Prior to this, we had not really tried too many other advocacy efforts other than playing the NAfME public service announcements before our county band and chorus festivals.  That message reaches those parents and family members that are in the audience, but a billboard reaches anyone who is driving by. This would not have been possible without the generous support of Olympus Media. My advice for other organizations would be to contact the local billboard companies in your area and see if they would donate space to your group. Even if you had to create the artwork, the costs to your group would only be the vinyl sign. WCMEA couldn’t be happier with the results. This project really pulled together our organization and our local communities.

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