Feb 6, 2019

A Collection of Creative Decisions

by: Laura Kochman

Change the narrative and you’ll change the world around you. At Mural Arts, we work to amplify the stories that don’t always get told—because they’re part of the narrative, too.

We just finished a mural at Einstein Long-Term Structured Residence (LTSR), where artist James Burns held frequent workshops over the last year for our Porch Light program. The LTSR provides long-term care to adult patients with chronic mental illness, many of whom are non-verbal. We can’t tell their stories for them, but they were able to express themselves through cut paper composition, monoprints made from ink and plastic, and, of course, paint. The resulting mural based on their designs is a collage: a beautiful representation of the conversations we can have through art. Here’s more of the conversation:

Jessica Lewis-Turner, Porch Light Project Manager: 

At a paint day for residents, I sat across from a father and daughter who were painting together. They were visiting his mother, who painted with them for a little while and then went to get a snack. The father and daughter, still absorbed in painting, talked for a while about what it was like for him to grow up alone with his mother, and how hard he had to fight to get her care.

At the end of the conversation, the father said, ‘I don’t know why we never talked about this,’ and made a few comments about how the painting must have made him talkative. It spoke to me about the way that concentrating on artwork draws out the conversations that people need to have around mental health.

A Porch Light paint day at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center. Photo by Steve Weinik.

James Burns, Artist: 

“When I first visited the LTSR back in 2012, I had had very limited time to spend with the folks who lived onsite. This past year in 2018, I had an opportunity to engage with the individuals who live there in an exciting way. We did a series of art activities together, delving into collage, painting, drawing, and printmaking.

I began to see the visual language that existed, not only though the work that we did together, but also the work that lived in the art room where the art therapist worked with the residents. It wasn’t long before I was able to identify the unique work of each resident artist, and it was clear that the folks living here highly valued opportunities to be creative.

“It was wonderful to be able to collaborate on this project. It feels great be able to bring the vibrant work that lives in the building out onto the street to share with the community. And even more, the community’s response to the work has been heartwarming.”

Artist James Burns speaks at the dedication for A Collection of Creative Decisions, designed in partnership with residents at Einstein's Long-Term Structured Residence. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Hope Irion, Einstein LTSR Art Therapist*: 

“I had the pleasure of working with Porch Light during their first year of engagement with Einstein Hospital’s LTSR. As the art therapist working with residents at the time, I had the privilege of witnessing and supporting their creative self-expression on a daily basis. Each resident’s narrative is unique, and their artwork is a window into their creativity, resilience, and lived experience coping with a mental illness. The Porch Light programming, led by the incredibly talented artist James Burns, amplified the voices of our residents and gave them a platform to express themselves on a larger scale out in the community.

Not only did the mural painting process provide our residents with a novel and exciting experience, but it also communicated the truth: that their stories and experiences are important and valuable. Seeing their work enlarged on a wall out in the community reaffirmed this message in such a powerful and inspiring way.

*During the 2018 workshops at the provider site.

Porch Light programming at Einstein LTSR continues through 2019, when we'll begin work on a second mural with the community. 


A Collection of Creative Conversations was funded by City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, Patricia Kind Family Foundation, and Stavros Niarchos Foundation. The Porch Light program is a collaboration between Mural Arts Philadelphia and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.

Last updated: Feb 6, 2019

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Taussy Valcàrcel says

Thank You all for the work that was put on the art ok n the walls!! I love to donate the wall from my house!! If there's a way please contact me at (267)***-****. t**********@gmail.com
Taussy Valcàrcel

Steve Weinik says

Hi Taussy, You can apply for a mural online! The form is available here: https://www.muralarts.org/about/apply-for-a-mural/