Murals of opioid addictions, recoveries and hope

A beginning painting class at UAA created three murals depicting individuals who are recovering from, or are still addicted to, heroin.

On February, 12 students in Steven Gordon’s beginning painting, ART 213, started working on murals after they spent time talking to three recovering heroin addicts. Gordon wanted to bring to light the opioid epidemic.

Students from Steven Gordon’s beginning painting class used quotes to express feelings between Kim Whitaker and her daughter, as the younger struggles with addiction. Photo credit: Christian Cielo

The class split into three teams of four to complete the murals. The murals have statistics in the back that explain more about the opioid crisis in Alaska from the last year.

Cynthia Brown and Mark Weaver are both recovering from heroin addictions and shared their story to Gordon’s class about their journey from addiction to recovery.

Kim Whitaker, president of the organization Anchorage Opioid Task Force – R.E.A.L About Addiction, and her daughter, who is currently still addicted, also spoke in the class.

“Whatever is effective in helping people find recovery and stay in recovery is what I’m interested in communicating with these murals,” Gordon said.

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A mural located on the second floor of the Arts Building displays Mark Weaver, and symbolizes his recovery from heroin addiction. Each mural displays statistics on the back of the paintings to explain the opioid crisis in Alaska. Photo credit: Christian Cielo

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated that over 42,000 individuals in the U.S. overdosed on some sort of opioid in 2016 and that 40 percent of those opioid overdoses involve a prescription.

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In April 2017, the State of Alaska Epidemiology stated on their update on drug overdose deaths that there were 95 opioid overdose deaths in 2016. The same document stated that, “In 2015, Alaska’s opioid overdose death rate was higher than the national rate (11.0 vs. 10.4 per 100,000 population, respectively).”

“You just get a sense of how big the issue is,” Gordon said.

Gordon wanted his students to focus on the recovering or still addicted individuals, rather than the staggering statistics.

The powerful murals depict Weaver, arms open with a guitar pick on his sweatshirt and “Jesus” written in the middle; a captivating portrait of Brown; and an embrace shared between Whitaker and her daughter with a gold, realistic heart.

“I think the students in the class were really impacted by just hearing people’s stories… Just the thought that as it raises exposure about the issue locally that maybe people would talk about it and try to collectively come up with solutions that could work,” Gordon said.

The murals are on the second floor of the Fine Arts Building until March 8, when they will be featured at Anchor Park Methodist Church for a showing hosted by the Opioid Task Force at 4 p.m. That weekend, the paintings will be at Bean’s Café’s fundraiser, the Empty Bowl Project, at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. After, they will be featured at Alaska Humanities Forum for a few weeks before they are at First Presbyterian Church of Anchorage on April 15. Lastly, it will appear at Southcentral Foundation Nuka System of Care Conference.

Cynthia Brown, a recovering heroin addict, is depicted in a three-piece mural by students in ART 213, beginning painting. The murals share stories of the transition from addiction to recovery. Photo credit: Christian Cielo