Artist Sonya Clark, an alumna of Cranbrook Art Academy, instructs participants on how to make a memorial pouch to honor victims of COVID-19.

Artist Sonya Clark, an alumna of Cranbrook Art Academy, instructs participants on how to make a memorial pouch to honor victims of COVID-19.

Photo provided by Detroit Riverfront Conservancy


City of Detroit, Cranbrook craft memorial for COVID-19 victims

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Metro | Published July 13, 2021

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METRO DETROIT — There’s no forgetting the deep loss experienced last year by so many as COVID-19 swept the globe and took millions of lives, decimated the economy and pushed medical services well beyond their limits.

But marking the pandemic with a memorial to honor those impacted most by the virus can serve to remind us all how far we’ve come and help us to heal.

That’s the goal of a new large-scale, hands-on public art installation down at Detroit’s TCF Center. “The Healing Memorial” has allowed participants to create personal dedications from fabric as part of a single floor-to-ceiling display that will be installed at the convention center.

“Last summer, when the city hosted the COVID-19 Memorial Drive around Belle Isle, we couldn’t include everyone,” Rochelle Riley, the director of Detroit’s Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship, said in a press release. “We promised, as the hub of this great region, to come back with a larger memorial for everyone. This is it, and it is designed to help us all heal from whatever loss hurts us — loss of loved ones, loss of job, loss of a sense of security. We want to provide a space to try to heal it all.”

The project kicked off June 19 at the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy’s annual Juneteenth celebration, with the first of several pop-up making stations along the Dequindre Cut Greenway. Cranbrook Art Museum’s own senior curator of contemporary art and design Laura Mott directed the effort with Cranbrook Academy of Art alumna Sonya Clark.

Clark said she originally launched the installation under the title “The Beaded Prayer Project” two years ago as an international public art project. This version of the installation will be the first dedicated to a specific city.

“At the heart of this project is the power of people coming together to offer something seemingly small but ultimately powerful and wholly collective,” Clark said in a prepared statement. “Each beaded prayer is the seed of a person’s intent and memory. Together we make a garden of our humanity, an ecosystem providing sustenance and succor.”

There are still opportunities to participate in the creation of the memorial. Making stations are scheduled in Detroit through mid-August, with more on the way. The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has posted resources on its website so any community group can host its own creation station.

“The Healing Memorial project helps us recognize the sense of loss that we’ve all felt in different ways during this pandemic,” Rachel Frierson, the director of programming at the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, said in an email. “We want the art installation to reflect contributions from people throughout our region, so we are reaching out to community groups, churches and organizations to host making stations throughout the summer.”

Individuals can make their own dedication at home too, with free craft kits available through the conservancy and an online instructional video with Clark.

For more information on the Healing Memorial, including ways to participate, visit detroitriverfront.org and navigate to the Healing Memorial page.


Cranbrook Art Museum will host a maker station during its Family Day event noon-2 p.m. Saturday, July 24.

Visitors can make a memorial pouch for the Healing Memorial installation or take part in other free activities curated by Cranbrook staff.

For more information, visit CranbrookArtMuseum.org. Cranbrook Art Museum is located at 39221 Woodward Ave. in Bloomfield Hills.

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