Jun 21

A Trauma-Informed Mother’s Day in Kensington

by: Laura Kochman

At Mural Arts, we talk a lot about using art to ignite change, and art’s potential role in mental health interventions. A trauma-informed artist can open up vulnerable conversations, and creativity can be a mental health resource. But what does that actually look like?

The Kensington Blessing/Healing Blanket Project. Photo by Steve Weinik.

I visited the Porch Light hub in Kensington again on the week before Mother’s Day, where artist Swoon was leading a workshop for her ongoing project at the hub. Swoon is no stranger to trauma-informed art—in 2015, her project with the Restorative Justice program was part of our massive Open Source exhibition. At the time, I heard her speak alongside artist Candy Chang about how they both use art as a source of healing, and she talked openly about her deep personal connection to narratives of family trauma and substance abuse.

Artist Swoon (right) with a workshop participant at the Kensington Storefront. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Three years later, Swoon came back to lead near-daily workshops in Kensington over a four-week period this spring. With collaborators Jessica Radovich and Heather Box, she brought arts, health, and wellness programming into the space on Kensington Avenue. On the day that I visited, anyone who stopped by was offered a filling snack, a cup of tea, and materials to craft Mother’s Day cards.

Handmade Mother's Day cards at the Kensington Storefront. Photo by Steve Weinik.

It’s a holiday that can be painful, and Swoon was fully aware, talking about strained relationships, lost relationships, and bonds that never existed. Participants wrote cards to their mothers, to the mothers of their children, to grandmothers and aunts and friends.

Handmade Mother's Day cards at the Kensington Storefront. Photo by Steve Weinik.

At the end of the day, Swoon promised, she would mail out everyone’s cards. For many participants, it was a chance to reach out to family members who hadn’t heard from them in a while. The three workshop leaders encouraged us to write or draw, even across a tense connection, getting feelings out in a concrete, creative way. And if we needed it, there was always the Magic Portal, a box in the middle of the table where we could put any letters that shouldn’t—or couldn’t—be mailed out.

The Magic Portal for unsent Mother's Day cards, part of a Swoon workshop at the Kensington Storefront. Photo by Steve Weinik.

I was reminded of a conversation with Dr. Meagan Corrado, a clinical social worker who works through the arts. She remarked that “the arts always make things more approachable. It gives people power over their own experiences, and encourages them to personalize their experience.” Swoon’s creative intervention put that concept into practice, offering everyone a warm, open space in which to feel connected, at a time when connection might be the thing they need most.


This project will continue over the summer with public paint days, leading toward a mural installation in September. Swoon and her collaborators will also be panelists at our Porch Light symposium in October 2018, featuring renowned speaker and author Dr. Gabor Maté. Check our events page for updates!

The Porch Light program is a collaboration between Mural Arts Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.

Last updated: Jun 21, 2018

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