Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

Grant Activity: Current Activity Impacting Communities

How do you measure public art's impact on health?


The Porch Light Initiative is more than a ground-breaking alternative therapeutic model aimed at improving individual and community health - it is a pioneering research study. The Yale School of Medicine is currently conducting community-based participatory research on the Porch Light Initiative to assess the impact the program has on individual and community-level outcome measures.  The rigorous evaluation design is new to the field of public art and includes the following methods: the careful tracking of program activities, the use of comparison sites, community surveys, systematic observations of mural sites, pre/post/and follow-up interviews, and case studies. At the individual level, we expect participation in the program to result in: improved health, reduced symptoms, and greater functioning; reduced personal and social stigma; enhanced recovery, healing, and transformation; greater social support and connectedness; improved attitudes about help-seeking; and increased utilization and satisfaction with services.  At the neighborhood/community level, we expect the program to result in: observed improvement to physical decay, physical disorder, and social disorder; perceived improvements in neighborhood safety, exposure to violence, neighborhood aesthetic quality, the walking environment, and collective efficacy.

The project has the potential to become an effective and replicable strategy for improving behavioral health outcomes among vulnerable individuals in recovery from mental illness or addiction and within distressed communities throughout Philadelphia and the nation.  A central component of successful replication will be due to the detailed specification of the program and its findings that will result from its rigorous evaluation by the Yale research team. 

Currently, across all six neighborhood sites (program and comparison) we have completed a total of 490 community interviews and 317 systematic observations of neighborhood block faces.  In addition, we have completed a total of 127 baseline interviews, and are currently completing post-test interviews for program and comparison site participants which will be completed in Fall 2012.  Preliminary analyses of program outcomes will be available by January 2013.   

In addition to structured interviews and observations, we have conducted follow-along case study interviews that have yielded very promising qualitative findings strongly suggestive of program impact.  Case study interviews indicate that a number of program participants report being deeply impacted by their participation in the program.    One participant noted “The [the artists] inspire me. They can always give me hope, get me involved in something, just anything they got going. They keep me busy. I thought, oh my god, this is me putting up a mural. Never would have thought that about me before.  And here I am.” Another participant noted “Mural arts opens the mind up to what staying clean is about, you know the beauty of life and how you can reach out to others.”

In addition to conducting case studies and interviews, Yale evaluation research staff provided ongoing consultation and technical assistance to Mural Arts, DBHIDS, and agency partner sites on: 1) refinement of the program logic model and theory of change, 2) targeting program activities to ensure that they follow the logic model and target intended measurable outcomes, 3) implementation and monitoring of program attendance, participation, and activities, and 4) assistance in neighborhood site selection for mural making to ensure that evaluation findings are attainable.  Finally, the Yale evaluation team has also selected comparison sites with the assistance of DBHIDS, and conducted baseline individual and community interviews as well as community observations  at each comparison site independently from the Mural Arts Program.