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Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon has partnered with Dogwood Arts to commission a permanent public memorial to remember the many Knox County friends and family members whom we’ve lost to COVID-19. The memorial is also a tribute to the communitywide sacrifices and heroic efforts taken to safeguard our most vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

A mural will be painted next week on one of the Clinch Avenue Viaduct underpasses at World’s Fair Park by nationally acclaimed artist Kelsey Montague and her team.

Everyone has suffered and sacrificed over the past 14 months – and some much more so than others,” Mayor Kincannon said. “Our hope is that this memorial will be a place of solace and healing. It will recognize how we as a community came together to look out for one another during a public health emergency.

The new, more visible memorial will replace the temporary COVID-19 memorial on the front lawn of the City County Building that was started last December, during the pandemic’s biggest surge. Flags were planted in the lawn, commemorating individuals who lost their lives to the virus.

Artist Kelsey Montague has painted hundreds of bright, larger-than-life murals, drawing inspiration from butterfly wings, balloons, dragonflies, hot air balloons and heart motifs for her work. Her 2014 mural in New York City with the hashtag #WhatLiftsYou was applauded by singer Taylor Swift, who then commissioned Montague to do artwork in Nashville.


Montague’s memorial in Knoxville will feature a motif of brightly-colored flying birds. It will be possible for a person to position himself or herself at the left of the mural and appear to be releasing the fanciful flock.

Art can inspire us and comfort us, and Kelsey Montague very much wanted her art to be a part of our post-pandemic healing,” Dogwood Arts Executive Director Sherry Jenkins said. “Likewise, Dogwood Arts is humbled and honored to help with such a meaningful project.”

A note from Kelsey:

"I’m honored to be asked to produce a mural to honor those lost to this horrific pandemic and to celebrate the brave men and women who helped us get through this last year. Each bird is unique and will represent a person lost to this pandemic. The act of ‘releasing’ the birds across the wall, I hope, is cathartic to the residents of Knoxville. We will always remember those we lost and we will honor their unique contributions to the world."

Mayor Kincannon also noted Montague’s highly recognizable signature artwork.

Kelsey always aims to be inspiring, and I like how she invites passersby to make themselves a part of her art,” Kincannon said. “This artist was passionate about wanting to reach out and help families hurt by COVID-19 to heal and recover. She created a message with her memorial design that’s truly unique – you won’t find it anywhere else.

The City will provide an agency grant to Dogwood Arts, with funding of up to $25,000 for the pandemic memorial.

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