through the arts
Psychologists are using painting, music
and other forms of art to heal, educate
and strengthen communities.
BY TORI DEANGELIS
When clinical and community psychologist Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, was appointed commissioner of Philadelphia’s department of behavioral health and intellectual disAbility services in 2004, he knew he wanted to apply some creativity to the job.
“I always joke that if we go into some of these communities and say, ‘I’m the mental health
commissioner and I’d like to talk to you about mental illness,’ everyone will run the other
way,” he says.
So when he attended a talk about The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, a city-wide
effort that’s been bringing together artists and citizens for 30 years, it made perfect sense to
use a similar format to address issues related to mental health challenges. For one, it had the
potential to reduce stigma related to mental health issues by bringing together community
members and service recipients. It also could provide an enjoyable, meaningful activity for
those with behavioral health conditions or intellectual disabilities.
“Painting murals seemed like it could be a very non-threatening, very engaging way to
serve our populations and get our messages across,” Evans says. “It’s kind of coming in the side
door instead of the front door.”
The resulting program, Porch Light, was launched in 2008 and has been going strong ever since.
For community member Brenda Carter, attending the weekly lunch-time meetings with
peers to help artist Ben Volta brainstorm ideas for a bus-side mural gives her joy and helps
To see a documentary on the Porch Light
program, go to http://vimeo.com/62361903.