If you could change one thing about mental health care in Philadelphia, what would it be?
Early last year, the Creative Resilience Collective collected feedback on just that question in an interview project conducted with graduate students at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. They asked the question of both mental health providers and those receiving care.
One of the recurring answers they got to the question was noteworthy: revitalize youth arts programming.
“Our response was to create an arts program in which teens could meet and plan creative individual projects,” said Michelle Wallace-Delgado, one of the CRC collaborators. The teens also collaborate on pieces, culminating in an exhibition that will examine their lived experiences of mental health.
“We choose a structure for this program that would maximize the teens’ creative autonomy because our work as adults is collective,” Wallace-Delgado added. “We saw no reason why the power of collective decision-making should be considered a ‘grown up’ thing. Now these teens are molding spaces for themselves to explore collaboration, dream big, work through conflict, and seek and get meaningful emotional support — collectively.”
Wallace-Delgado said that CRC first formed because collective members wanted to address the unjust health outcomes that they experienced personally, and the ones they witnessed in their communities. After their interviews with care providers and activists, however, CRC members realized that teenagers were one of the most vulnerable, marginalized and underserved groups in the city in terms of mental health.
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Creative Resilient Youth (CRY) emerged as an attempt to respond to gaps in intergenerational dialogue and the lack of school resources that hinder care.
CRY is a youth-led project. Its meeting agendas are determined by the group, and are informed by language, expressions and ways of listening that the teens are just discovering.
According to Wallace-Delgado, nine teens have been meeting since October with a team of adult organizers from the Collective led by designer Andrea Ngan and teaching artist Bennett Kuhn. The meetings, in general, are spaces for creative exchange, with opportunities for full group consensus building and individual time.
“Some of the activities we’ve done so far include a project-planning exercise borrowed from design methods,” Wallace-Delgado said. “[It’s] a game identifying historic ways of talking about mental illness — from Eli Lily to Michel Foucault — and a range of creative games for artistic generation.” She explained that one of those is an idea round-robin, in which each teen has 10 minutes to share the specifics of their project with a peer or adult mentor and receive feedback before switching off to a different partner.
The teens are continuing to refine their ideas, learning the community organizing skills required to work socially on a complex topic, and making their art. As they step into project development, meetings will become weekly, leading to the exhibition this spring.
“Art has played a big role in my life”
West Philadelphia native and Reach Cyber Charter School student, Payton Fulton, is one of the nine students whose work will be featured in the upcoming exhibit. Fulton is working on a collaborative project in the style of documentary photography.
"I want to tell a strong message with my work."
“Art has played a big role in my life,” she said. “During my childhood I grew up in a somewhat busy family, and art offered me a way out of reality. It was also something I could do that my mom would actually pay attention to, and [it] also helped me express my emotions in a healthy way.”
Fulton believes that mental health is an important topic to focus on because of misconceptions surrounding it. She hopes people will be able to relate to her artwork.
“Most of the time, I want to tell a strong message with my work,” she said. “So, for some people they can look into my work and and relate it to their life.”
An exhibit and pop-up performances are upcoming
CRY’s first eight sessions were funded through a grant received from the Velocity Fund, a regranting initiative established by Temple University at the Tyler School of Art with the support of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
CRC in the process of securing a venue for the exhibit and is planning for pop-up performances at different sites across the city.
“We are just wrapping up our eighth session and seeking more funds to extend our collaboration and bring the youth projects to fruition,” Wallace-Delgado said. You can donate to the effort online.
P.S. Looking for more mental health resources? Read Generocity’s “Mental health guide: Where to get therapy on a sliding scale in Philadelphia.”-30-
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