Artwork celebrates clinical trial volunteers in Winston-Salem

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- It was a show worthy of an encore.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines stood in the city’s Innovation Corner and tugged at the black cloth that covered something large – something taller than he is.

When the cloth dropped, it revealed a special piece of artwork – an egg-like shape with a series of bricks inserted, all around it. It’s a project sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. At any given time, if you look at the government’s listing of clinical trials online, you would need more than 50 million volunteers to fill them all. Typically, there are about 5 million volunteers most years.

To try to make up that gap, Eli Lilly decided to put a spotlight on clinical trial volunteers with the program “A Heroes Art Journey.” John Magnan oversees it. He’s a professional artist who caught Eli Lilly’s eye with his work – often in wood – that depicted things that fit with the theme. One of his sculptures, for example, was a wooden figure of a women, holding both hands aloft in victory over ovarian cancer.

Magnan’s idea was to create a figure like the old Cairns that the Scots and Irish used to mark places along the roads – sort of journey markers – to relate to the journeys people have after their particular diagnosis. He then sends participants a “brick,” a piece of wood the size of a house brick, to decorate any way they wish. He then places a few more than 300 in each of the egg-like cairns.

“Every individual who sent in a brick was able to personalize it in any way they wanted,” said Joseph Kim,  of Eli Lilly. “So, you have people who painted things, you have people who've written things, they've carved them, they've glued things onto them so it's a really personal expression of what research meant to them.”

They are testaments to those who’ve survived through trials. Javon Parker is from Lexington and when a clinical trial was first offered to him, he thought, “Yeah, I was like, 'Mmm, no,'” he says with a smile. But he ended up taking part because when he was diagnosed with a bone cancer in his spine, his doctors weren’t optimistic. “To be honest, they really didn't think I was going to make it.”

He did, and now he has a brick in the latest cairn, which are quickly becoming identified with Winston-Salem.

“There are three of these sculptures in the country and we have two of them now and there's a good chance a third one will be coming,” Joines said.

See some of the artwork in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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