Art can do much more than create beauty. Art can play a critical role in healing, resilience, and wellness. The partnership between the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP) and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) situates art and human connection at the heart of recovery, resilience, and healing in Philadelphia neighborhoods. MAP and DBHIDS work closely with communities to co-create public art as an expression of community resilience and a vehicle for personal and community healing. Our partnership has resulted in 18 completed projects, including 15 large-scale murals, and six ongoing mural projects across Philadelphia since 2008. Through the creation of participatory community-driven art, we offer opportunities for connection between individuals in behavioral health services, families, service providers, and city government. These connections are powerful forces as we all work to make ourselves and our communities vibrant, healthy, and strong.
The MAP/DBHIDS partnership represents a courageous and innovative approach to enhancing community and individual health. We step outside the traditional public art making and medical treatment model by engaging individuals and communities in a creative intervention (community-driven public art) to transform both the social and physical environments. Public art is commonly understood through a passive lens: communities or individuals benefit from the existence of art in their local environment. The traditional medical treatment model is equally passive: individuals in need are expected to receive individually-focused services that focus solely on reducing symptoms. The MAP/DBHIDS partnership transcends both these models. Through a collaborative creative process, individuals and communities are not simply beneficiaries of public art or recipients of treatment, but co-creators of the work as they learn new skills, gain knowledge among peers and community members, and play an active role in improving their physical environment.
The partnership between MAP and DBHIDS is led by Ms. Jane Golden and Dr. Arthur Evans. Under Ms. Golden’s direction, the Mural Arts Program has created over 3,600 landmark works of public art through innovative collaborations with community based organizations, city agencies, non-profits, schools, the private sector and philanthropies. Dr. Evans, Commissioner of City of Philadelphia DBHIDS, leads a national model of recovery and resilience oriented behavioral health care and presents on the partnership between MAP and DBHIDS throughout the country. Dr. Evans’ influence impacts other cities, states and federal systems and academic audiences. As we continue to learn more about the impact of this work, the influence of this partnership will grow. Both Ms. Golden and Dr. Evans are principally concerned with achieving health among all individuals and communities and see participatory community art as one innovative way to achieve this aim.
We have experienced many successes and challenges that contribute to our partnership’s sustainability. We have learned how to: effectively engage communities and individuals; successfully partner with agencies and community groups; utilize artistic activities that focus on communities’ identities and strengths; and empower stakeholders to shape the public art in a way that is meaningful and authentic to them. Additionally, we have found that our projects do not end with a completed mural. Often, community partners sustain the momentum through the continued physical and social enhancement of the neighborhood, such as creating community gardens and holding communal gatherings. Most recently, our partnership has evolved into the establishment of a Health and Wellness Program at Mural Arts that is built upon the best practices of our partnership. The Program will lead to sustained implementation of this creative approach to health promotion, opportunities to advance the work, and the drawing of national attention.
The work of the MAP/DBHIDS partnership is to continue replicating this innovative approach to improve health across the city, while continuing to improve our methods and practice in each project. Since 2008, 18 projects and 15 large-scale murals have been completed. These murals address issues including healing, stigma, resilience, trauma, hope, feelings of safety and security, homelessness, suicide, and recovery. These projects have positively impacted thousands of individuals across Philadelphia and in other regions. Recently, MAP and DBHIDS have focused on tracking program implementation with an eye towards replicability beyond Philadelphia city limits. It is our intention that this work will continue to be replicated across the city and become a national model for an innovative approach to promoting healthy communities. The rigorous evaluation through Yale School of Medicine (please see results/outcomes section) will contribute to our ability to sustain and replicate this work.
MAP and DBHIDS recognize that our collective mural-making processes can be a powerful tool for generating dialogue, building relationships, empowering communities, improving health, and sparking revitalization. Anecdotal information suggests this partnership has helped individuals and communities overcome significant challenges and fostered community strength. Through our partnership with the Yale School of Medicine, we now have the opportunity to systematically assess our work. Yale is currently conducting community-based participatory research in several communities to measure the impact this work has on individual and community–level outcome measures. The rigorous evaluation design is groundbreaking in the field of public art. At the individual level, Yale is conducting longitudinal interviews, in-depth case studies, and focus groups. At the community level, Yale is conducting interviews with community members, and assessing indicators such as crime statistics and usage of behavioral health services. Preliminary findings from the study will be available in early 2013.