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Street artist Kelsey Montague creates inspiring installation at University of Phoenix Campus

The mythical phoenix bird could not rise from the ashes without its wings, and University of Phoenix’s Main Campus now has a brand new, bespoke pair of them.

On July 1, renowned street artist Kelsey Montague completed a vibrant interactive mural that you can see as soon as you enter the student parking lot of the Campus. It is meant to inspire the thousands of UOPX students around the world who overcome their challenges so that they, too, can rise. The mural resembles popular angel wings street art that has become a favorite photo attraction in recent years. However, boasting striking line work and shapes to add a fiery aesthetic.

The project, a collaboration between Montague and the University’s social media team, was a year in the making. Originally part of the University’s "Discover Your Wings" campaign, the social media team wanted to take this beyond just a part of a single campaign and turn it into its own long-lasting project.

Victoria Eckstein, UOPX senior manager of social media marketing, said the art is a visual representation of the strength, grit and determination of the University's adult learners.

"Just like the Phoenix rises from the ashes, our students can honestly get over any obstacle," Eckstein said.

Making a difference through art

Montague was the perfect artist for the job. Before she became renowned for her interactive wings street art, she set out with a clear goal: to inspire. Montague was living in New York City, where she felt the stress and pressure of everyday life in the metropolis weighing on the people around her. She wondered how her art might help.

"I wanted to do something uplifting for people," Montague said.

She found her canvas on a rotating art wall in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. There, Montague painted a pair of ornate white angel wings against a black backdrop. Next to the wings, she wrote, "What lifts you?"

A week later, the pop star Taylor Swift was driving by, spotted it, and had to take a photo in front of it. Swift posted the image on her Instagram account.

"That’s when things really—pun intended—took off," Montague said. "There was a line of people waiting to stand in front of it and take their photo."

Montague’s message resonated with the University’s social media team. "She is all about uplifting the community, bringing people together and spreading kindness," Eckstein said. "That’s what our Phoenixes do. They work hard and inspire positivity."

Montague felt the connection, too.

"I was really excited when the University reached out to me," she said. "Everyone knows them and what they stand for. It was a match made in heaven."

Wings that inspire

Kelsey Montague in action, painting the mural at UOPX Campus

Kelsey Montague has completed more than 300 interactive art installations around the world. She has painted tree swings and upside-down cityscapes and swarms of dragonflies. But she remains most well-known for her wings. So, when she when the University reached out to her, she knew instantly what she wanted to paint—Phoenix wings.

Planning began almost immediately but, as in life, there were setbacks and delays in the process along the way, including the coronavirus pandemic. Finally, on the morning of June 30, Montague and others woke at 3:30 a.m. to begin painting. As Eckstein rose that morning, she thought of the UOPX students who often do the same to juggle school and careers.

Montague laid out the design with the help of her sister and business partner, Courtney. She used gallons of shades of red and orange paint to create the wings. Hours were spent using acrylic pens to draw the detailed designs on the wings. On the afternoon of July 1, she completed the mural.

A group of security guards was the first to stop and appreciate the new installation, thanking Montague for adding beauty to the area. That same day, the artist added the wings to an online map of her installations and her fans quickly found it.

The Main Campus is without students for now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Phoenix’s wings will be waiting for them when it’s time to return.

"We’re hoping when people can come back to campus, the wings will inspire them," Eckstein said. "When you drive into Campus, the first thing you see are these beautiful, strong, vibrant and fierce wings. We want students to feel inspired the moment they step on Campus."

Kelsey Montague said she hoped University students everywhere would find beauty and meaning in the wings.

"The wings are a symbol of their strength."

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