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Knoxville unveils COVID-19 memorial mural to remember those lost in COVID-19 pandemic

The mural will be painted at the Clinch Avenue Viaduct underpass in World's Fair Park by nationally-acclaimed artist Kelsey Montague.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The City of Knoxville unveiled a permanent public memorial and mural in Knoxville to remember all those who have been lost during the COVID-19 pandemic on Sunday.

More than 630 Knox County residents died after contracting COVID-19 in the last year. The memorial will also honor the "communitywide sacrifices and heroic efforts taken to safeguard our most vulnerable residents during the pandemic," according to a press release.

The new, more visible memorial replaces the temporary COVID-19 memorial on the front lawn of the City County Building that was started last December. Flags were planted in the lawn to commemorate those who lost their lives to the virus.

“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 city partnered with Dogwood Arts to commission the memorial and a mural by nationally-acclaimed artist Kelsey Montague and her team. It was painted on one of the Clinch Avenue Viaduct underpasses at World’s Fair Park.

Montague has created "hundreds of bright, larger-than-life murals, drawing inspiration from butterfly wings, balloons, dragonflies, hot air balloons and heart motifs for her work," according to a press release. She created a mural in New York City in 2014 with the hashtag #WhatLiftsYou that so inspired singer Taylor Swift, the star commissioned Montague to do a butterfly mural in Nashville for the release of her song “Me!”. 

The Knoxville memorial mural features a "motif of brightly-colored flying birds soaring into a brilliant blue archway near the base of the Sunsphere." 

“I am beyond honored to create this COVID memorial piece for Knoxville,” the artist said. “Each bird is unique and beautiful and represents a person we lost to the pandemic. I encourage people to stand in front of the mural and appear to be ‘releasing’ the flock to the heavens. I hope this mural is cathartic and honors all those we lost.” 

Once complete, a person should be able to stand at the left of the mural and appear to be releasing the fanciful flock. 

“Art can inspire us and comfort us, and we believe Kelsey Montague’s creation will be a special 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.” 

“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 provided an agency grant to Dogwood Arts, with funding of up to $25,000 for the pandemic memorial.