CAR Arts Professional Story: Elizabeth Burke Dain – Public Relations for the Arts / Chicago Artists’ Resource

On How Arts PR Shapes an Organization’s Message

Elizabeth Burke Dain is no stranger to the Chicago art world. Since 1985, she has been crafting the messages of arts organizations around the city.
She started her professional career at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1985 in the Asian art galleries, eventually migrating into the role of Manager of Rights and Reproductions. In 1989, she co-founded the Wicker Park arts festival Around the Coyote, known for showcasing emerging artists. Since then, she has gone on to run her own events/PR business and become the Media Relations Associate at Columbia College Chicago. After six years of ensuring the college’s messaging came out on top, she decided to focus full-time on her arts PR business, Function. CAR Visual Arts Researcher Alicia Eler interviewed Elizabeth about the importance of PR and media relations to gain a behind-the-scenes look at what the communications world is really like.

Chicago Artists’ Resource: What drew you to arts PR?

EBD: I got into PR after being hired as a media relations officer at Columbia College Chicago. I worked there for six years and found a kinship with the curators, artists, faculty and administration. Since I was already a ravenous reader of cultural media—especially art publications—my constituents appreciated my knowledge and awareness of the up-to-the-minute trends in contemporary art. I was asked to sit on most of the curatorial boards within the college gallery system and to advise on how exhibitions could be perceived from a media relations perspective. I developed professional relationships with reporters all over the city and on a national scale. As a result of my dedication to my role and deep interest in contemporary art, I was able to regularly get reviews and stories placed. These placements helped to position the galleries at Columbia College as an important local and national voice in Chicago’s art community.

CAR: Why would an organization want to work with a PR consultant?

EBD: PR is the strategic crafting of your brand story. It’s the focused examination of your interactions, programs and community engagement that, when combined, determine what and how people talk about you. Publicity is the act of getting ink. Publicity is getting unpaid media to pay attention, write you up, point to you, run a picture, make a commotion.

The work I do is primarily with galleries and organizations. When an organization asks me to publicize an exhibition, it is important that I know the most current version of their brand story so that anything I write or relate about them furthers their vision of themselves with the public.

A few questions I will ask an organization are:  How does the public benefit from your organization? What’s in it for them? What is the call to action for the public? A great story always has a great character; through whose eyes should your story be told?

Read the full arts professional story on Chicago Artists’ Resource: