While the focus of our 2018-2019 project year was the development and publication of new HIV education stories on our Instagram, community outreach is a key part of disseminating our materials, promoting our social media accounts, engaging with consumers, and providing HIV prevention and treatment information.
As with many HIV education programs, much of our community outreach is conducted year-round at health workshops and screening events run by our clinical partners. From June through August we also participate in many of the pride events held around New York City. These are all great opportunities to engage with community members, but as a project so grounded in narrative storytelling and the graphic arts we have also extended our outreach agenda to include Flame Con. Founded in 2014, Flame Con bills itself as “The World’s Largest Queer Comic-Con” and is a two-day exhibition with vendors, cosplayers, panel discussions, performances, screenings, and other events related to LGBTQ pop culture. Through its commitment to the community, the event makes special discounted tables available to organizations that are not selling any merchandise, and with over 7,000 attendees through the weekend it has become one of the largest and most vibrant events we attend.
Tabling at an event that’s a queer space but not specifically focused on health has had several benefits for our project. First, there aren’t typically a lot of other community organizations present, and with a ballroom full of vendors we don’t feel we’re in a redundant space with those who are represented. This is in contrast to some other health or pride events, where the representation of organizations offering HIV information and services is great but can also feel oversaturated at times, both for the workers and the attendees. In this space, our work stands out and people remember us year after year!
Along those same lines, because the comic con environment is conducive to and supportive of conversations with artists and vendors, we’ve had the chance to have meaningful conversations that wouldn’t be as feasible at a pride parade or kiki ball-type event. We can talk about the genesis of the project, as well as its goals and community-driven mission. We’ve also found this to be a great chance to talk about the NLM websites and the ACIOP initiatives. People have been surprised — and thrilled — to hear that the federal government is not only still actively funding HIV education but in such creative ways.
This also provides us a unique opportunity to reach a very targeted audience who’s interested in graphic storytelling that’s inclusive and representative of their experiences. While our materials are created with the general community in mind, we find it valuable to market to consumers who may be more likely to follow us and share our work with others based on their affinity for the genre.
Finally, we score a big win being one of the only tables giving away materials among a sea of vendors! We typically give away over 500 4×6 postcards and upwards of 400 business card-sized prints, mostly with our original photos and artwork (select samples included here) or with referral information for our local clinical partners. The back of the materials includes our social media handles and information about NLM websites. And because attendees are there to buy books, artwork, and other merchandise, the materials they take from our table tend to get added to their shopping bags and leave the venue with them, unlike some other events where the floor is littered with handouts at the end of the day.
To build off of this success, we will continue exploring more cultural events to add to our outreach calendar in the future. We also make our artwork available for free to relevant initiatives, so if any organizations are interested in co-branding these materials for distribution at your events, please reach out to Project Director Dr. Christel Hyden (Christel at prevention.nyc) to discuss possible partnerships!
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