Art helps heal crime's wounds
May 22, 2012
I admit it. Sometimes I have Philly envy. Philadelphia has a Mural Arts Program, and the community in which I live does not.
....I have been drawn to the arts as a way of reframing the challenges of crime and trauma. The arts can engage the whole person to express or understand the harm done and help harness heart and intelligence to reduce isolation. The arts can provide a way to explore what can be done to give back, and to give voice to the full range of human experience. The act of creation can restore a sense of meaning and agency to those who harmed and those who have been harmed.
Every day, the Mural Arts Program demonstrates the value of art as a way to dig deep, reconcile, and transform our experience through active investigation, creation, and collaboration — engaging dozens of adjudicated youths, inmates, ex-offenders, and lifers while attending to the harm done to their victims. Mural Arts doesn’t always know where these efforts will lead when they begin, but it dares to ask the questions that need to be answered. In seeking truth and reconciliation, Mural Arts rebuilds connections for its participants with history, identity, and culture, and transforms their individual and collective experience.
The criminal justice symposium was rooted in the power of practice. It drew teaching artists, social workers, justice workers, policymakers, and funders from all over the country to share wisdom born of experience and courage. And, though the energy in the room at the end of the day was palpable, the attendees were also aware they have a lot to learn about themselves and their co-practitioners, as well as inmates, ex-offenders, victims, and victims’ advocates.
I applaud Philadelphia for nurturing Mural Arts. My hope is that other communities might catch that vision, learning from this city the value of arts in building community and seeking justice. If that happens, I will probably still have Philly envy, but for different reasons.