Name of Innovative Program:
Educating and Healing Through Applied Storytelling
First Person Arts
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
In 2011, FPA discovered a promising new storytelling program while collaborating with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. Finding the Light Within was a community engagement project whose goal was to de-stigmatize depression. These storytelling workshops produced real life stories of people impacted by suicide that were transformed into a play presented by professionally trained actors and musicians as part of the First Person Arts Festival in 2011. Audience members then participated in a "Decompression Cafe" where mental health professionals stood ready to answer questions and process audience feedback. The entire process (5 months) from workshop to performance was a profound and transformative experience for participants and audiences. In 2012, FPA built upon this success, serving roughly 300 people, mainly youth who have experienced trauma, through community engagement projects modeled after Finding the Light Within.
Creativity and Innovation:
Mental health and substance recovery programs regularly make use of therapeutic storytelling in counseling and therapy sessions. While these approaches are generally successful in empowering patients to either overcome or better manage specific issues, the clinical applications of these techniques are generally applied in one-on-one situations or “closed” group sessions in which patients are already in treatment. All sessions are also confidential, therefore stories cannot be shared. FPA’s community-engagement storytelling–to-theatre projects are open to the insured and uninsured. The workshops are made affordable through grants that often underwrite a portion of the costs. Workshop curriculum engages participants in a process of embracing their personal truths through storytelling and moving beyond them in a positive way. Final performances of the real life stories from the workshops are open and have the vital impact on educating and healing audiences. Such a model does not currently exist in our region.
The City of Philadelphia was so pleased with the results of our 2011 collaboration that they invited FPA to collaborate with Mural Arts again in 2012 on a project focusing on children and trauma. Mural Arts has included $15,000 in its 2013 budget to work again with FPA.In a letter from Valley Youth House / Achieving Independence Center to FPA Executive Director, Jamie J. Brunson, who conducted the workshops there, its Community and Activities Coordinator wrote: “It was after I heard you speak with great passion about your professional and personal desire to work with and assist young people…that I knew the AIC and First Person Arts would make great partners.”Ms. Brunson has been asked to serve on the Board of the Mental Health Association of Greater Philadelphia, where she will have direct access to organizations working with populations affected by a range of behavioral health issues.
One of the project's strengths is its capacity for self-sustainability. This program has the capacity to generate revenue three ways: 1) Earned Income/Fees – paid to FPA by organizations like Mural Arts to conduct the workshops and develop the theatre piece presentation; 2) Contributed Income/Grants – organizations like the Thomas Scattergood Foundation underwrite workshops/theatre performances through grants; and 3) Ticket Revenue –culminating theatrical performances at the First Person Arts Festival also generate ticket income for the organization. Our goal over the next three years is to expand our applied storytelling work to generate more earned and contributed income. The Philadelphia Cultural Management Initiative has invited FPA to submit a proposal to create an Applied Storytelling Division in order to meet the demonstrated demand for this work.
The potential for program replication was evident after our first collaboration with Mural Arts. Placing personal stories that culminate in theatrical performances at the center of the healing process engages the broad community in solutions-based, awareness-raising conversation. If this can be done for people impacted by suicide and trauma, it can be done for communities impacted by other pressing health and human services issues - the potential is almost limitless. This year, we also conducted workshops, followed by a performance, with the Valley Youth House / Achieving Independence Center for youth aging out of the foster care system. This work gave participants the courage and strength to stand in front of an audience of their peers and share their hurts, hopes, and dreams, their stories. Other organizations, such as Philadelphia Academies, Tree House Books, and The Art Sanctuary, want to work with us, but lack the resources to participate.
- In 2013, doubling both the number of workshops to eight and the number of program participants to 600 through strategic partnerships with organizations that serve the audiences we seek;
- For the participants, increase their self-awareness and help them and others cope with their feelings, enhance cognitive abilities, and enjoy the life-affirming pleasure of making art, with the goal of enabling them to heal and move on with their lives;
- For the audiences, address misconceptions, de-stigmatize, and create community around shared experiences;
- Development of evaluation criteria specific to behavioral health issues to qualify and quantify the program’s success; and
- By 2015, creating an Applied Storytelling Division at FPA to bring this work to scale, including hiring a Manager of Applied Storytelling and a Sales Assistant and implementing a train-the-trainer component to produce a cadre of trained professionals using the newest intelligence and developments in the field.