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Dayton “Wall Of Perseverance" To Memorialize Opioid Epidemic Victims With Art

Artist Jes McMillan founded the nonprofit Mosaic Institute of Greater Dayton.
Mosaic Institute of Greater Dayton
Artist Jes McMillan founded the nonprofit Mosaic Institute of Greater Dayton.

A Dayton artist is working on a new way to memorialize victims of the nation’s devastating opioid epidemic.

The project would create a memorial wall made of hand-cut mosaic tiles, called the  “Wall of Perseverance.”

The memorial is the brainchild of mosaic artist Jes McMillan, founder of the Mosaic Institute of Greater Dayton

McMillan, owner of Crane Studios Market, is also behind an ongoing effort to designate an official East Dayton Arts District, beginning with painting a train overpass near the intersection of E. First and N. Keowee Streets.  

McMillan says the goals of establishing the district include unifying the existing artists and arts organizations already working on the east side, cleaning up and beautifying neighborhoods and erecting new signage within the district's boundaries. 

"Developing a brand, putting the name to the area and these experiences within the area is going to help us market and draw in those people in the suburbs that we need to come in and start support the arts and the downtown area," she says. "We'll have people coming into the downtown area, spending money and eating at the restaurants and learning more about all the things we have to offer down here, not just the arts."

McMillan says she also hopes installing new murals and signs around the district could promote community pride and help to promote a more positive image of the East Side, which, she says, many people associate with crime and drugs. 

Her opioid memorial project was an audience favorite at economic development group UpDayton’s community funding contest last month.

Now, she’s working with the city to finalize a location for the memorial. She says the contest winnings of $3,000 in seed money and a year of volunteer support will help jumpstart the project.

“We are going to open up and invite everyone to come to Dayton and place a piece of mosaic tile onto the wall in remembrance of a loved one lost, so there will be thousands of pieces on this wall representing thousands of lives, not just in Dayton, but across the nation -- so many people have died.” 

When it opens early next year, she hopes the public art installation will come to symbolize hope and healing in the Dayton community, which has been hard-hit by the state's ongoing opioid epidemic, says McMillan, who lost her own mother to a drug overdose in 2001.

Jess Mador comes to WYSO from Knoxville NPR-station WUOT, where she created an interactive multimedia health storytelling project called TruckBeat, one of 15 projects around the country participating in AIR's Localore: #Finding America initiative. Before TruckBeat, Jess was an independent public radio journalist based in Minneapolis. She’s also worked as a staff reporter and producer at Minnesota Public Radio in the Twin Cities, and produced audio, video and web stories for a variety of other news outlets, including NPR News, APM, and PBS television stations. She has a Master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She loves making documentaries and telling stories at the intersection of journalism, digital and social media.
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