Initiative Brings Portraits Highlighting Mental Illness to Newark Penn Station

Oct 17, 2018

Five black and white portraits, people of all ages, are the makeup of a new public art space on track one at Newark Penn Station.
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

New Jersey Transit, in partnership with the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris unveiled a public art project at Newark Penn Station to bring awareness to the impacts mental illness has on families.  

Five black and white portraits makeup the new public art space on track one at Newark Penn Station. 

Bob Davison and Renee Folzenlogen with Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris.
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

“Well it came about at the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris.  We wanted to do a public works project to raise awareness in regard to mental health, mental illness, and more importantly recovery,” said Bob Davison, CEO with the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris. 

Davison enlisted one of the mental health organizations own family support counselors to curate the project.  Renee Folzenlogen specializes in art therapy.

“Really the goal was to create connection to foster a safe environment to talk about mental illness. To really help people understand that they’re not alone,” Folzenlogen said.  “There’s so much diversity and a lot of people coming through.  It’s a great way to share the message.  We want when people walk by to really look at these faces and feel welcome, drawn in, and engaged.  I know when I see these faces that’s what happens for me.”

The portraits are part of the Inside Out Project Group Action, the participatory art initiative created by TED prize winning Parisian street artist JR.  The faces are a diverse selection of individuals with no indication of who suffers from mental illness. Folzenlogen says that’s the point.

“Some of the people pictured here are mental health clinicians, some are family members, and some identify with mental illness.  We don’t know who has mental illness and who doesn’t.  The reality is we are all affected by mental illness whether we have a diagnosis or not.  What happens to you affects me.  The title of our project is ‘we’re in this together.’We really believe that.  We’re behind those words.”

Pamela Harewood of Newark is pictured in one of the portraits. Her daughter identifies with mental illness.
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

Pamela Harewood of Newark is pictured in one of the portraits. Her daughter identifies with mental illness.  

“Many of us that took these pictures are not mentally ill but it does affect us through our families or other connections.  There’s no shame in having mental illness.  It’s part of being human.  It’s part of having frailties and about having support in terms of people being able to live a qualitative life where they are,” Harewood said.

New Jersey Transit executive director Kevin Corbett says if only one person is impacted by the artwork, then the effort is a success.

“We obviously have issues with homelessness at our stations," Corbett said.  "There’s a lot of misunderstandings about mental illness and how it effects people.  We see it sometimes with suicides on our lines.  It’s pervasive in society and it’s really discouraged to be talking about that, but we want to make sure that it does get out.”

The public art space has phone numbers and information for people seeking help.
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

The portraits will remain on display at Newark Penn Station until mid-December.  They’ll be moved to Secaucus Junction in January with additional locations named at a later date.