The Road Home Project Statement
The Road Home is a multi-disciplinary project that merges arts therapy, public art and community advocacy to heal the traumatic roots of addiction in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.
This project began close to home. I was born into an opioid addicted family. As a young adult, I struggled with the long-term impact of being raised in a home always on the brink of crisis, where addiction ruled our lives. In 2011, my perspective changed when I read the work of Gabor Maté. After years of working on Vancouver’s skid row, he observed that addiction is an attempt to soothe the pain of a nervous system that has been disrupted by a history of trauma: it is a desperate attempt to find relief. The compassion he expressed for the deep pain at the root of addiction is a perspective that moved me to my core, enabling me to find forgiveness for my family members and embark on my own healing journey. This journey also shifted the focus of my art practice.
The Road Home moves outward from the personal to address the widespread community impact of opioid addiction. We draw on creative tools to change the pervasive cultural stigma that prevents people in addiction from accessing the support they need, and creates bias amongst policy-makers that influences how they implement programs and laws that address opioid addiction.
The Road Home’s final outcome had three main components. The first was a series of daily, drop-in art therapy workshops at the Kensington Storefront community center. I worked with collaborators Jessica Radovich, Heather Box, and Julian Mocine-Mcqueen to create workshop activities that included storytelling, song circles and drawing exercises. The second outcome was a public mural, Healing Begins With Connection, located on Kensington Avenue directly across from Prevention Point, a center that provides social and medical services to people experiencing homelessness and addiction. I designed the mural entirely with portraits of the participants we worked with during our arts workshops, set across a colorful, patterned backdrop. The third outcome was a series of education and advocacy events that included a public conference at the University of Pennsylvania, and a private workshop with the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disability Services.
While the arts therapy workshops gave us a face-to-face opportunity for connection and healing, the public mural gave us an opportunity to express that message by physically transforming the urban landscape in the place where our workshop participants lived. Representing the people who we had worked with for weeks as the subjects of the mural was a way to honor and uplift them, creating a loving reflection of their community within a culture that so often dehumanizes people struggling with addiction. After we installed the mural, a number of times I overheard people saying “Did you hear? It’s real people on here!” Or “Hey that’s us!”
The Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. People are living in a constant state of emergency, where overdose deaths occur daily. The goal of many advocates is to implement harm reduction as an official public health strategy to reduce preventable overdose deaths. Harm reduction approaches include needle-exchanges to reduce HIV spread, access to testing of illicit drugs before consumption, immunity from arrest for seeking medical care for a drug overdose, and supervised injection sites. However, these strategies have been controversial and slow to implement in the United States. Because harm reduction policies are wrongly perceived through the lens of deep cultural stigma about addiction, preventable deaths continue to occur.
Film by Fredric King
Music by Brian Bo
Swoon Kensington Story 081720 2.30 Edit