Painting a picture of recovery

    In the basement of a methadone clinic in North Philadelphia (JEVS), recovering addicts are working on a mural as part of their therapy.

    They are painting in sections, and their work will eventually be installed on the outside of the building. During several poetry workshops, participants wrote about their experiences and hopes for the future, their poems are becoming part of the mural.


    This project is a collaboration between the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and the city’s Department of Behavioral Health. One of the goals is to connect people in recovery to the healing power of art, as well as re-connect them with family members and their communities. This page features follows participants, artists, and stakeholders as the mural develops and grows.

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    September 2010 update: Read about the mural dedication, which took place on September 22, 2010: New Philadelphia mural celebrates recovery from addiction

    August 2010 update: Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program received a $500,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The money will be used to engage people with mental health issues in public art making.

    It’s called “The Porchlight Initiative” and it will engage people receiving mental health services in nine public art projects in North Philadelphia neighborhoods. Mural Arts staff will work closely with the city’s department of behavioral health, as well as mental health providers. Jane Golden, executive director of the mural arts program, says public art projects help people struggling with issues like mental illness and addictions:

    Golden: the whole idea behind the behavioral health work is to help people feel better about themselves, to reconnect them with their families, with their loved ones and mural painting and community public art work endeavors are engaging and can connect people it’s also to connect the provider agency and the community, because there’s often a stigma there Bill is a 46 year old Philadelphian who has helped paint a mural at a Philadelphia addiction clinic. He says the work gave him a different focus as he went through treatment:

    Bill: It took the problems away I would paint on the wall and just everything seems to… you know you’re thinking about the painting so I’m not thinking about my life, and myself, and whenever I do that I seem to be doing a lot better

    The Porchlight Initiative is one of ten recipients of a Robert Wood Johnson grant – chosen from close to 200 applicants. More than 1,000 individuals of all ages are expected to participate in the nine planned projects over the next four years.

    Peggy is is standing in front of her own portrait at Dilworth Plaza. The portrait was taken by Mustafah Abdulaziz, a photographer who captured participants in the Mural Arts project at JEVS. The portrait shows Peggy at the beginning of her recovery.

    Update, April 19, 2010: Family members of people in recovery and other volunteers came together at the Mural site this weekend for “Community Day”. As volunteers painted poems onto the wall around the mural site, Lois was proud to show of her work to her fiancee and her mother Nancy.

    An interview with James Burns, the lead artist on the project. Participants started painting in 2009, but as James explains, the work begins long before the pain brushes come out: [audio:100310ms-James-re-Mural.mp3]

    April 7, 2010 update: The pieces of the mural are coming together: painted in the basement of JEVS in North Philadelphia, they are now being pasted onto the wall of the building.

    James Burns working on a section of the mural (Photo: Maiken Scott)

    Philadelphia poet and performance artist Ursula Rucker is working on the project. (Photo: Mustafah Abdulaziz / MJR)Philadelphia poet and performance artist Ursula Rucker has been involved with this mural project since the start. During her workshops, she encouraged participants to write poetry – which is becoming part of the mural.

    [Ursla Rucker photo courtesy of Mustafah Abdulaziz / MJR]





    A poem Louis wrote for the Mural project, hanging on the wall whith the artist's sketches.Louis is in her early twenties, she is in recovery for heroin addiction. She loves participating in the mural project, and has written several poems that will be part of the art work. She has been on methadone for a year, and hopes to slowly get of methadone in another year.


    Jane Golden, executive director of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program at work on a mural.Jane Golden is executive director of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program. Her tireless passion for public art has been the driving force behind the program that has created over 2,800 murals all over the city.

    (Jane Golden photo courtesy of Steve Weinik)


    The drug treatment clinic at JEVS is licensed for 280 patients, and the methadone program is almost always at full capacity. In order to qualify, patients must have been abusing opiates for at least one year, and they must have tried a medication-free approach to treatment. Methadone is used in treating opiate addictions – most of the patients are addicted to heroin, and some to pain medications.

    Most of the patients come to the clinic via referrals, but there are some walk-ins. Thomas Baier is executive director of the addictions department at JEVS Human services. Faye Bermudez is clinical supervisor for ACT 2 Achievement through Counseling and Training.


    Peggy lives in Philadelphia. She has been coming to the methadone program for a year. She has three children, and hopes to reclaim her life to be a better mother for them. Her oldest son is 21, and currently in prison for armed robbery.


    Bill is 46 years old. He grew up in Philadelphia, and started drinking and using substances when he was a teenager.

    Danny grew up in Northeast Philadelphia. He is 34 years old, and has been fighting his addiction for the last four years. He relapsed a few times at first, and then started coming to the methadone clinic two years ago. He has been doing well in this program. Danny has a sixteen year old son, whom he describes as a “golden boy”. He says his son is the greatest reason why he wants to stay clean.

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