Philly Area’s Brush With The Law Uses Art For Change And Hope
By John Saeger
Brush With The Law is a community arts initiative that promotes collaboration between artists and socially marginalized people. Individuals battling addiction, parolees, and youth facing tough circumstances are just some of the people that an organization with such a positive purpose brings into its large tent. The Philadelphia Globe spoke with founder Maria Maneos about Brush With The Law’s mission.
She first became invested in the need for arts programming as a rehabilitative tool after her son began to battle drug addiction. For someone with a Master’s Degree In Fine Arts, her love of art and family merged as she became familiar with the rehabilitation process (or lack thereof) in Pennsylvania.
Maneos said, “Right after I graduated, I started a program at the University of Pennsylvania, [at] the rehabilitation center there. It wasn’t addiction or anything like that. It was people who had strokes, people who had dementia, disabled veterans. To see how focused they became in the artwork itself led me when I started seeing that my son struggle[d] with addiction.”
She visited her son at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility and realized the lack of options for people experiencing similar issues. “When I went to see him there I could see how humiliated he felt. I could see the other guys in the same age bracket and struggling with the same thing and asking, well what do you do? I didn’t understand. So you go to jail, and now what? There was no real other option to getting him to stop, even just for a week, of using.”
Maneos collaborated with a social worker and began an art class in the correctional facility. She called the results “life changing” for her and the inmates. Their projects created murals in and outside of the prison. More importantly, she says that the initiatives induced conversation, a sense of ownership, and community amongst her pupils.
The organization uses a warehouse in Norristown as its base of operations, but it is active throughout the Delaware Valley. Members create murals, paint park benches, and develop other art projects across the region. A chandelier comprised of drug bags honoring the 4,462 Pennsylvanians who lost their lives due to heroin and opiate overdoses hangs in the State Museum of Pennsylvania.
“[The chandelier] was an amazing project that [was] a really good community effort into healing.” Maneos said, “People who had lost people, people who are in the midst of addiction came out.”
Brush With The Law’s community-based journey is about more than just serving the community. It is a total effort from start to finish. Keeping the old adage of “it takes a village…” in mind, the group receives supplies from those in the area with overlapping interests. Individuals and organizations are also welcome to reach out to Maneos to help pitch in.
“We’ve done fairy gardens where I’ll call up local greenhouses or plants, nurseries… tell them the project that we’re doing and [ask] if they would like to donate some supplies, because we don’t want to charge anybody for taking part. So that’s been really helpful. A lot of these places that I’ve called for donations have really been responsive and understand the difficulties and struggles that people might be having living in this time period.”
Like so many other organizations, Brush With The Law is adapting to the unfortunate social-distancing realities of 2020. Maneos is currently leading a project to promote mental health. She received a fellowship from the Center For Emerging Visual Artists before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The CFEVA fellowship is enabling her latest innovative project.
After altering plans to create an enclosed dream confessional, her group is utilizing virtual reality to engineer a variation of the same concept. Multiple Philadelphia-based virtual reality producers are collaborating with Maneos. The end result will show how mental health effects marginalized people.
Brush With The Law is also adapting to home-based projects. Maneos’ group is hosting Zoom sessions on Tuesday afternoons in November. The development is one in a series of plans for this year.
“We have been doing some virtual classes for people who have mental behavioral health, co-occurring disorders, we do it with everybody. We try to get supplies out to people who might feel a little bit alone or might be scared. I mean, we’re all scared, but just to give an outlet of some sort.”
These efforts form an important bond at a time when so many people are struggling with feelings of isolation due to social distancing. Maneos says, “It’s more about community building and friendship and being there for each other than it is about whatever the project is. But it’s still fun to do those projects.”
Learn More Online About Brush With The Law Below:
About the Author: John Saeger is a music and film writer from Philadelphia. Since 2017 he has been writing his pop-culture blog Long After Dark, a site dedicated to the arts in the City of Brotherly Love and beyond. email/ Twitter