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 of personal and community healing. Our partnership has resulted in 26 completed mural and public artworks and five ongoing projects in communities across Philadelphia since 2008. Through the creation of participatory community-driven art, we create a connection to each other – 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 both traditional modes of creating public art and the traditional 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 access 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 and 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 Jane Golden and Dr. Arthur Evans. Under Golden’s direction, the Mural Arts Program has created more than 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 nationally. 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 made great strides in learning how to: effectively engage communities and individuals; create protocols that facilitate consistent and clear communication; 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. Most recently, our partnership has evolved into the establishment of the Porch Light Program, a sustained and structured effort to build upon the best practices of our partnership. The Program will lead to consistant implementation of this creative approach to health promotion, opportunities to advance the work, and the drawing of national attention. Additionally, we have found that our projects do not end with a completed mural. Often, community partners sustain the momentum through the creation of new public art including community gardens and seating areas.
MAP and DBHIDS plan to replicate this innovative approach the new sites and projects that will improve health across the city, while continuing to refine our methods and practice in each project. Since 2008, 26 participatory public art projects have been completed. These murals address issues including but not limited to 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. We have also focused on tracking program implementation so that the model might be transferred beyond Philadelphia city limits. Leaders from other cities across the world have already come to Philadelphia to learn about this partnership, and we consistently present on it at national conferences. We are in the process of developing a program curriculum that will help other organizations implement the model.
Yale School of Medicine is conducting participatory research in several communities to measure the impact this work has on individual, provider, and community–level outcome measures. The rigorous evaluation design is new to the field of public art and includes longitudinal interviews, in-depth case studies, and focus groups. Preliminary quantitative and qualitative findings are promising. At the individual level, participants have described new friendships, an enhanced sense of their self-esteem and personal capacity, a desire to give back to their community, and an increased sense of hope in the future. At the provider level, Porch Light has influenced how behavioral health agencies participating in the project can address mental health and substance use needs in more engaging and innovative ways. At the community level, the program has helped behavioral health agencies forge positive collaborations with community organizations and residents while increasing perceptions of neighborhood safety, aesthetic quality, and social capital.