Article: Turning Around Public Opinion
By Dunstana Talana the Violet
Originally posted to The Rialto, June 1, 1994
(In response to a thread about changing the public opinion of the SCA in a regional area / town)
Tulsa, Oklahoma can aptly be described as the buckle on the Bible Belt (to borrow from one of my favorite dramatic characters, E.K. Hornbeck -- name that play!). Tulsa County alone boasts 891 Christian churches of just about any denomination you care to name, to serve a population of only half a million (I haven't tried to look up stats for the rest of the area encompassed by our shire). Tulsa is also home to the Kenneth Hagan Ministries and The One And Only Oral Roberts - the great 900 foot tall Jesus incident "occurred" within sight of my home.
Yes, we do have difficulty finding sights. Mostly because they are too expensive or are booked up. Most sights will not permit alcohol: Oklahoma had prohibition until 1958 (I am NOT kidding!), and its tradition remains. Fortunately, it is perfectly possible to have a good event without chemical assistance. We have used churches for events only if one of our members was a member of the congregation.
We at one time did have a bad public image problem. Mayfest (Tulsa's art festival) and Octoberfest both dropped us from their schedules because we "didn't fit in with their plans" (reality: we were "too weird" for them). Back in the early 1980s, the parents of Ansteorra's current Crown Prince asked my parents what they thought of this weird group their son had gotten into. I used to work with His Highness's father, who figured that if my parents didn't object to me being in the SCA, they shouldn't worry.
Today we have a good working relationship with this city. How? About five years ago, we embarked on a campaign to emphasize the "educational" aspect of the SCA. We got on the Tulsa City/County Library's list of social organizations that are available for giving talks; we let the Boy Scouts know we were available for demos; we talked to our pastors, parents, and teachers about our group. We are now doing 2 to 5 demos a month. We've worked with school classes, churches, nursing homes, scout groups, the Tulsa Ballet, provided atmosphere for fundraising dinners and corporate banquets. We are in particularly high demand with junior high classes and preschools. Two years ago, we worked with a college student group to put on a tournament/dinner for the local boys home. We are currently putting together a small renfair for the town of Verdigris, just northeast of us.
We also have been selective in the demos we do - the Unitarians wanted us to put on a pagan Sun-return festival one winter. We could have done it, but it was not the image of the SCA we wanted to project. We have a demo-coordinator who matches the kind of demo to the abilities of our members: school children are not interested in 14th century French poetic forms, and junior high humanities students will put you through the ringer with picky questions about everyday life in the renaissance. One local company wanted us to just look pretty and array ourselves along a balcony and staircase at their corporate Christmas party. Another wanted only dancers. The Domestic Violence Intervention Service requires that no combat activities, or even weapons, be displayed at their fundraiser (can you blame them?). Anyway, they key to success was that we gave them what they asked for, and did it as best we could. Word of mouth recommendation accounts for much of the demo work we do.
In short, the community now thinks we're just spiffy. It hasn't been easy, and it took some time, and we have to work to keep it up, but it's definitely been worth the effort.
Yours in service,
Dunstana Talana the Violet