The Porch Light Program


All works of art are used by the artist to non-verbally communicate with their audience and street art is no different. A number of organisations use murals to encourage social change in certain environments. The Porch Light Program, run by the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, in Philadelphia does exactly this by using murals to open up topics such as mental health and substance abuse for discussion (Mural Arts Philadelphia, 2016). They believe “hands-on-art-making provides a strong pathway for individual and community healing” (Mural Arts Philadelphia, 2016) and a study by the Yale University School of Medicine proves exactly this.

What is Porch Light? Video

Mural Arts Philadelphia, 2016.

The project within the Porch Light Program that links most to Australian culture is The North Philadelphia Beacon Project which tried to tackle alcohol abuse in the North Philadelphian neighbourhood. It consists of two murals with the words RISE, standing 40 feet high, and SHINE, standing 80 feet high, painted over a colour grid of volunteers’ portraits at 2710 North Broad Street. Artist James Burns worked in conjunction with community volunteers and the Sobriety Through Out-Patient (STOP) organisation to create a work that positively addressed addiction and recovery. Burns hoped that this would act as “a reminder to value each day, and remind us that we are a community of individuals, each with a voice and power” (Burns, J. 2013).

Weinike, S. 2013.

The study by Yale University School of Medicine proved that this type of community mural can have a positive effect on a neighbour when asking “can public art promote public health?” (Kraemer Tebes, J. 2015). A group of researchers lead by Jacob Kraemer Tebes, PHD, and Samantha L. Matlin, PHD, looked at the effectiveness of the Porch Light Program on individuals and communities throughout Philadelphian neighbourhoods that exhibited these murals. Their research showed that while there was limited change for some individuals, there was certainly a clear change in the community as a whole making a design initiative such as this highly successful (Kraemer Tebes, 2015).  While they specified that “the mechanism that explains how public murals lead to these outcomes remains unclear” they strongly acknowledges that “the defining impact of the public murals may be that they serve as a catalyst for social change” as explained in the diagram below (Kraemer Tebes, J. 2015).

Kraemer Tebes, J. 2015

A design initiative such as the Porch Light Program in Philadelphia is used to address issues within a community and open up taboo subjects such as mental health and substance abuse for discussion in the hopes of “mobilizing residents for community change”(Kraemer Tebes, J. 2015). The project has been very successful as verified by a Yale University School of Medicine study.

Weinike, S. 2013.


Burns, J. 2013, The North Philadelphia Beacon Project, Philadelphia, viewed 16 February 2017, <>.

Kramer Tebes, J. Matlin, S. Hunter, B. Thompson, A. Prince, D. Mohatt, N. 2015, ‘Porch Light Program: Final Evaluation Report’, Report, Yale University School of Medicine, CT.

Mural Arts Philadelphia. 2016, Porch Light, Philadelphia, viewed 16 February 2017, <>.

Weinike, S. 2013, The North Philadelphia Beacon Project Images, Mural Arts Philadelphia, viewed 16 February 2017, <

2 thoughts on “The Porch Light Program

  1. An amazing initiative to minimise the stigma around hard to talk about health issues. It’s a great example as to how we as designers can impact other people in positive ways and improve our world. It’d be nice to see this happen in other areas around the world!

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