The Porch Light Initiative

Using the arts as an engine to transform how Philadelphia communities tackle mental health and addiction.

    • June 10, 2013

Public Art for Improving Health

The Porch Light Initiative is a collaboration between the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP) and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS).

Through this groundbreaking program, behavioral health service providers, artists, and community residents come together to address trauma in Philadelphia’s most underserved and under-resourced communities. Individuals who are receiving treatment for behavioral health problems, in addition to often co-occurring conditions like drug and alcohol addiction and homelessness, are paired with artists to design, paint, and install large-scale murals across the city of Philadelphia. The mural projects engage people in a new way, creating deeper connections to their community and opening a safe space to talk about and reduce stigma associated with behavioral health issues.

The process of creating transformative public art projects serves as a powerful vehicle for fostering neighborhood residents' personal growth and leadership. The Porch Light Initiative is an innovative approach toward enhancing community health, engagement, and overall quality of life that connects individuals with behavioral health challenges to each other, needed service providers, and the larger community. 

"Our goal is to improve the behavioral health status of both individuals and the community at large. Because of the stigma associated with behavioral health conditions, people often don't reach out for help. We really have to understand how those communities help to support people's health."

Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., Commissioner, Department Behavioral Health & Intellectual Disability Services, City of Philadelphia

Since 2007, the Porch Light Initiative, working with three partner agencies – Sobriety Through Out-Patient (STOP), Associación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), Project H.O.M.E., and Eleventh Street Family Health Services – has completed 18 projects, including 15 large-scale murals, and has six ongoing mural projects across Philadelphia.

The Yale School of Medicine is currently conducting a community-based participatory research study on The Porch Light Initiative to assess the impact the program has on individual and community-level outcome measures. 

Recovery, like art, is a transformative process

Young boy painting

"People who participate do feel a sense of hopefulness about the future, a reduced sense of stigma. They also report a sense of connection to their community that they didn’t have prior to this.”

 - Yale University’s Jacob Tebes, Ph.D., principal investigator of the program

group of volunteers painting

"[Porch Light's purpose] is to use art to enhance mental health resources. . . and to overcome the stigma of mental illness, addiction, and homelessness. . . The mural is a byproduct. What we're involved in is social transformation and the vehicle we use is art."

- Jane Golden, executive director, The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program