The New York City Mural Arts Project uses a collaborative mural-making process to discuss mental health, while fostering new relationships in NYC communities. The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene works with community-based organizations, artists, people living with a mental health condition, and the community at large to break down misconceptions and stigma associated with mental illness. Together, we translate our conversations into a mural that reflects the dialogue around mental health and incorporates the diversity and strength of everyone involved in the mural-making process.
A person’s mental health cannot depend solely on clinical care. It is strengthened through communal support and open dialogue with family, friends, and neighbors. Also, a community’s health is enhanced by improving social relationships and expanding social networks. To destigmatize mental illness, we support and connect the following groups:
COMMUNITY BASED ORGANIZATIONS
Community Based Organizations—local providers of mental health services—are our anchor in the community and the launch point to engage residents and other local organizations. We aim to support their organizational goals, increase their presence in a community, and provide opportunities to share their work with all New Yorkers.
MENTAL HEALTH CONSUMERS
Mental Health Consumers—people receiving behavioral health services for a mental illness or addiction—live, work, and thrive in our communities. Our workshops, community engagement events, and mural design process offer a platform to share their lived experiences, capabilities, and skills with the rest of the community.
The Community—its families, residents, and workers—ground our project in a neighborhood, ensuring the murals are by and for the communities we work with. By supporting local arts and reimagining what mental illness looks like, community members give their neighborhood a mural that reflects who they are. It’s a lasting reminder of the work we can do together.
Vanessa Monique Smith
Vanessa oversees NYCMAP to ensure the project is grounded in the Department of Health's goals and that it engages diverse New Yorkers in mental health topics related to community building and urban environments. She creates the program's design and planning, and builds strategic partnerships with city agencies and community groups to execute large-scale public works of art. In her work as a community driven planner, she has experience using participatory design and arts-based practices to improve public services, enhance the public realm, and support community and economic development. She is invested in developing strategies for mental health awareness, and in incorporating mental health into broader city polices. Vanessa holds degrees from The University of Chicago (BA, Anthropology) and Columbia University (MS, Urban Planning).
As the Project Coordinator, Elana works to identify logistical needs and streamline communication amongst project partners including the arts organization, mental health service providers, and additional community-based partners so that NYCMAP's project goals can be achieved. Her interests lie at the intersection of the creative arts and mental health, and the ways in which people can understand and share experiences through a collaborative art-making process. Elana’s past work experience has focused on the development and implementation of interdisciplinary initiatives focusing on sex education, mental health awareness, and community building. Elana holds a Bachelors of Arts in Anthropology and Human Rights from Barnard College and studied social movements and social change in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Dariann is currently a senior at Hunter College studying Public Health and Human Rights. She is interested in community health education, mental health, and health disparities. She is leading independent studies on race and infant mortality rates in NYC, and has conducted research in Swaziland, involving the mortality rates of patients on TB and HIV Treatment and the effects of stigma on HIV care. At NYCMAP she has facilitated art workshops, conducted community outreach, and has captured photographs and dialogue from NYCMAP’s process and participants. She enjoys showing her community how art could be used not only as a form of self-expression, but also as a way to teach others about mental health & resiliency.
In 2017, Elfreda joined the NYC Mural Arts Project as the research intern through MHS. During her time here, she hopes to encourage others who have a mental health diagnosis and who have been afraid to venture out of their comfort zone to do so. While working at the Brooklyn Community Services Organization in 2012, Elfreda was encouraged to apply to a clerical position at a member clubhouse, Brooklyn Pros. In 2016, Elfreda joined the Brooklyn Clubhouse, bringing skills from her past experiences and sharing them with others who were willing to learn, and setting the example” if I can do it, so can you” and “Each one teach one”. Elfreda is currently a clubhouse member at Services for Underserved, a NYCMAP community partner. She hopes to be able to share the skills she acquires during her time with NYCMAP with the universe.
Lead Artist, Services for the Underserved
Christopher has been creating murals collaboratively in a wide range of communities for over twenty years. His first commission was with the City of Santa Fe Community Youth Mural Program in 1997 where he designed and painted environmental justice themed murals with a team of teenagers on five garbage trucks. From there he went on to work with striking workers, labor unions and punk activist collectives in Mexico City. Upon moving to New York City in 2000 he began working with Groundswell Community Mural Project as a lead muralist. With Groundswell he has produced numerous monumental murals, poster campaigns and more over a period of fifteen years. Some of the other NYC based community organizations that he has created murals with are, ABC No Rio, Brooklyn Arts Council, New York Harbor School, Bushwick Community High School, Make the Road by Walking and Ad Hoc Art where he participated in their Welling Court Mural Project for six years running. Over the past three years he has been working with Groundswell to create a series of murals on Rikers Island in collaboration with the young men and women detained there.
Lead Artist, Community Access
Jon “Phes” Souza is an artist, educator, and community organizer from NYC. His work is characterized as a blend of NY Hip-Hop with international and cross-generational influence. His technique involves creating new expressions that tap into the many cultures, histories, and styles that make up his identity as a first generation Afro-Brazilian- American. Phes believes that art is a universal language and the only way to reach people across the boundaries of race, language, sex, age or ethnicity. His aim is to bring good intention to all of his work in hopes that the energy will help to connect people from all walks of life. Phes has performed music, painted murals, exhibited art, and partnered with various organizations, artists, musicians, and activists from around the world. His work has been featured in films, galleries and various forms of media. Phes currently resides in New York, where he has a studio in the Bronx, working as an Artist-In- Residence through the CUFA organization.
Lead Artist, Acacia Network
Aaron Lazansky-Olivas, aka SpazeCraft One is an internationally recognized urban visual artist, designer, DJ, and music producer born & raised in midtown Manhattan, currently residing in the Bronx. SpazeCraft is a seasoned Arts Educator & Media Literacy Specialist of 20 years, previously working with organizations such as the Mexican Museum of San Francisco, the Exploratorium, Children's Creativity Museum of San Francisco, The Whitney, The Bronx Museum, and Carnegie Hall in NYC as well as myriad art/culture/technology orgs in both California, New York City & abroad. SpazeCraft has spearheaded hundreds of successful programs/projects in & out of the Public School system & continues to push the envelope with his media mentorship project "Level Up Media Arts" & the interactive youth media festival, "Hacker Play Spaze", both of which take place at the Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx where he was an Artist In Residence 2014-17. SpazeCraft also instigated the partnership between Building Beats & Carnegie Hall and designed / spearheaded the first ever digital music program at Carnegie Hall in 2015. A staple of the NYC art & music scenes for over two decades, SpazeCraft has toured & performed internationally sharing the stage & recordings with a wide spectrum of artists.
Acacia Network’s mission is to partner with our communities, lead change, and promote healthy and prosperous individuals and families in a HEALTH NEIGHBORHOOD environment. Our focus on excellence is driven by our employees’ ideas and contributions to shape and lead the organization. We strive to incorporate best practices and stimulate innovation. The foundation of our success is the members of the Acacia family who devote their time, talent, and resources to those who entrust their care to us. We are genuine, compassionate, professional, transparent, and responsible. We affirm the unique identity of those we serve, treating each with friendliness, dignity, respect, care and compassion. Our values are inherent in our desire to provide exceptional customer service. We engender trust and provide solutions toward our common goal to lead change and provide the highest quality of integrated care. We make our ethics and values clear by living them each day, and tenaciously uphold our organizational culture that recognizes and supports the diverse strength of the Acacia Network. Learn more about Acacia at acacianetwork.org.
Services for the Underserved (S:US)
We drive scalable solutions to transform the lives of people with disabilities, people in poverty and people facing homelessness: solutions that contribute to righting societal imbalances. We envision a city where everyone has a roof over their head, is healthy, productive and can enjoy the social connections that create a life of purpose. We’re a nonprofit with a staff of close to 2,000 that provides $200 million in services. Our efforts are supported by various local, state and federal government entities as well as foundations, corporations and individual donors. Most importantly, our vision allows us to deliver the same quality of services to one individual or to thousands. No challenge is beyond our scope. Our Uniqueness lies in our ability to take what we learn on the ground and use it to change systems and impact policy. By delivering high quality services that address the complex circumstances of each person, we help transform lives, improve neighborhoods and boost future generations. Learn more about SUS at sus.org.
Community Access is a pioneer of supportive housing and social services, and, both in NYC and nationally, we promote human rights, social justice, and economic opportunities. Community Access expands opportunities for people living with mental health concerns to recover from trauma and discrimination through affordable housing, training, advocacy and healing-focused services. We are built upon the simple truth that people are experts in their own lives. We're at the vanguard of the fight against New York City homelessness. We're expanding our reach to help more individuals experiencing trauma and distress. And we continue to bolster our job readiness and educational programs to train more peers for the workforce. Learn more about Community Access at communityaccess.org.
NYC DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
The New York City Department of Education (DOE) is the largest school district in the US, serving 1.1 million students in over 1,800 schools.
THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY
The Port Authority of NY & NJ builds, operates, and maintains critical transportation and trade assets. Its network of aviation, rail, surface transportation and seaport facilities annually moves millions of people and transports vital cargo throughout the New York/New Jersey region. The Port Authority also owns and manages the 16-acre World Trade Center site, home to the iconic One World Trade Center.