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‘Art Reducing Stigma’ portraits unveiled in effort to de-stigmatize addiction

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 10:30 PM EDT
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PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (WYMT) - At the Mountain Arts Center Thursday, portraits were unveiled in an effort to reduce the stigma around drug addiction and addiction recovery.

Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton, Mountain Comprehensive Care Center, Mountain Regional Prevention Center, and the University of Rochester Medicine Recovery Center of Excellence in New York teamed up to bring in the university’s artist-in-residence, Charmaine Wheatley, to do the portraits.

“I’ve done hundreds of portraits,” said Wheatley. “I usually I’m working with marginalized and stigmatized communities. For example, mental illness, HIV, refugees, and homeless populations.”

The collaboration is part of a greater effort to reduce the impacts of the opioid crisis in rural Appalachian communities. This also gives Wheatley the opportunity to meet and grow meaningful relationships with the subjects of her portraits.

“It’s not like ‘oh, I just come in and I sit with you and I do your portrait’ and then after an hour that’s over,” said Wheatley. “There’s a lot of communication and we become very close.”

The five portraits of Mayor Les Stapleton, Shawn Allen, Mike Brown, Shawna Edwards, and Reneé Ratliff are part of a larger project Wheatley has worked on previously in her hometown of Rochester, N.Y. and hopes to bring people together and spark conversation about stigmatized groups such as those suffering from addiction.

“They know that they can stand there in the foyer and talk about this other thing,” said Wheatley. “You know, like a wonderful concert they’re going to see, but underneath it, are life’s harsh realities shown on the walls.”

Wheatley says she is honored to create these portraits and cannot wait to return for a visit to Eastern Kentucky in the near future.

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