A new mural, raising awareness about suicide, is planned for Horizon House at 120 S. 30th St. this summer.
The Philadelphia Mural Arts Project, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, have joined forces to create the mural which they hope will help dispel some of the stigma and shame attached to the subject of suicide.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, the artists and organizers of this project hopes the picture will help tell the story of the growing number of those who live with depression and/or have survived suicide attempts.
“We’re doing a project that engages survivors, attempters and the communities they are a part of,” said James Burns, staff artist of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Project.
According to Burns, a mural of this nature does not begin with fresh paint and a blank wall but with dialogue among those who have personally confronted the issue of suicide or who live with the stigma. Workshops, discussion groups and community meetings were held long before the actual work began on producing the image.
“We had a number of community conversations about what a mural about suicide should encompass and once we did a series of presentations and some back and forth with the community,” Burns said.
In this way the mural was truly a collective effort both in its design as well as in its production.
“Once a design was approved, we had a series of meeting days where well over a thousand people participated in the production of it,” Burns said.
Along with meeting and community discussions, organizers of the mural produced a play which was performed at a local church and created a website where people can share their personal stories about suicide.
Such community engagement, according to Burns, is necessary to not only raise awareness, but help remove the stigma and shame faced by those who made suicide attempts in the past.
“It’s difficult to find a site where a mural about suicide would be welcome,” he said. “The folks at Horizon House were really great about being a part of the conversation all the way through; they really get it.”
Horizon house is a mental health facility where those struggling with homelessness, substance abuse or psychological or emotional problems can receive supportive services. Those interested in sharing their stories about suicide can go to www.storytellingmural.org and post them on-line.
Even as an artist, Burns admits that creating a suitable image on such a topic was a concern initially.
“I remember when we started the project, even myself, I said, ‘what does that look like?’ I didn’t know what a mural about suicide would look like,” Burns said. “I think it’s really about diminishing the shame, making it something that can be talked about in a productive way.”