The Storefront is a public art-making project in Kensington created to combat the stigma surrounding action.
Jose Benitez found a new reason to smile on his daily commute.
Benitez takes the Market-Frankford Line to Somerset station every day to get to the harm reduction center Prevention Point, where he works as the executive director. He said it makes his day every time he sees the recently opened Kensington Storefront on the corner of Kensington Avenue and Somerset Street — a corner known for its open-air drug market.
“[The Storefront] demonstrates to us hope,” Benitez said. “No recovery process is complete without hope.”
The Storefront opened in March as the newest extension of Porch Light — a five-year-old partnership between Mural Arts Philadelphia and the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services that aims to strengthen community wellness through art.
The Storefront offers public art-making opportunities in Kensington to combat the stigma surrounding substance use. It serves as a workshop for visiting artists as well as a safe space for people living in the neighborhood. New Kensington Community Development Corporation, Impact Services Corporation and Prevention Point Philadelphia also offer counseling and programming at the store.
Jane Golden, Mural Arts’ founder and executive director, said the storefront is committed to remain open for two years, but she hopes it’ll stay longer. The storefront is purposely located at the “center” of the epidemic, she added, and establishing a physical space in the neighborhood strengthens Porch Light’s impact.
“It allows us to embed ourselves in the community,” Golden said. “It’s not just a fly-by. … It allows us to build deeper relationships and often, because of that, the work is generative.”
Laure Biron, Porch Light’s director, said the Storefront’s warm and welcoming atmosphere attracts residents. She added that once people enter the community hub, it is easier to suggest and provide services for recovery and addiction.
“You can come here and make some art, see some friendly faces and I think it starts to get people kind of comfortable coming into that space,” Biron said.
The Storefront will house an artist-in-residency program, which will focus on creating murals in Kensington. Porch Light chooses where to paint murals after a detailed assessment of the neighborhood and its needs, like where there are high poverty rates and lack of services, Biron said.
“People start to understand the content is this really beautiful thing actually pulled from people, and I think it starts to give a face to people who struggle with behavioral health issues and addiction,” Biron said.
The Porch Light Program is annually examined by Yale University and DBHIDS. According to the 2015 Evaluation Report, the report shows a noticeable decrease in stigma about mental health issues and substance use disorder in areas near Porch Light’s murals.
“We need to make sure that we invest in our communities because the solutions to the problems that we have are right here in the community,” said Roland Lamb, the deputy commissioner of DBHIDS.