We are fast approaching the first anniversary of a special mural painted by celebrity street artist Kelsey Montague in a high-traffic area of the University of Phoenix campus. In celebration, we wanted to share once again the inspiring story of how the project came into being.
Living in New York City, Montague was always acutely aware of how the pressures of life weighed down the people around her. It wasn’t long before a goal crystallized in her mind: she wanted to do something to inspire people. The question was how to do it and how to spread the message effectively to as many people as possible.
One day, Montague came across a canvas in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood and decided to paint a pair of white angel wings on it. The painting was accompanied by the message: “What lifts you?” A week later, pop icon Taylor Swift drove by, saw the mural, took a photo in front of it and posted it on her Instagram account.
That’s when things really took off. Although Montague has completed over 300 interactive art installations around the world, ranging from tree swings and upside-down cityscapes to swarms of dragonflies, she is best known for the white angel wings. Both its message and inspiration have resonated with thousands of people since.
Victoria Eckstein, senior manager of social media marketing for University of Phoenix, wanted to do something similarly inspirational to highlight and celebrate the strength, grit and determination of the University’s adult learners. Many of these individuals must find sources of inspiration and lift themselves up to overcome life’s challenges as they pursue what excellence means to them. Just like the phoenix rises from the ashes, University of Phoenix students show day in and day out that they, too, can overcome any obstacle. Eckstein wanted to create something visual and interactive that would exemplify these qualities and inspire University students.
University of Phoenix reached out to Montague to explore a potential collaboration. Before long, they agreed to work together on the University’s “Discover Your Wings” campaign. However, Montague and the University’s social media team soon discovered that they wanted to create something even more meaningful and longer-lasting than a single campaign.
Montague quickly decided what to paint: a pair of soaring phoenix wings. Taking inspiration and design cues from the white angel wings in New York City, she painted using hues of red, orange, yellow and white on a gray cinder block wall in the campus student parking area. Montague used gallons of red and orange paint to create the wings and spent hours accentuating the intricate and detailed designs using acrylic pens.
The painting process itself was also interesting, sharing idiosyncratic cues from the lives of University of Phoenix students. For example, the project involved the collaboration of multiple people from University social media managers to Montague and her creative team. The project also faced obstacles before it could be formally initiated including pandemic-related and logistical challenges of when, where and how the mural would be created.
Finally, almost in an ode to the more than a million resilient University of Phoenix students and alumni worldwide, Montague formally began painting at 3:30 a.m., a not-so-unusual time for University students who wake early, work hard and juggle careers and personal commitments with classes and assignments.
Once the mural was complete, Montague added it to an online map of her work. Her followers quickly found the new artwork, which has been seen countless times online. Although the University’s main campus is without students due to the pandemic, the mural will be there to greet them when they return. The hope is that the mural will inspire everyone who looks at the beautiful, strong, vibrant and fierce wings that encapsulate what it means to be a University of Phoenix student.
About University of Phoenix
In 1976, Dr. John Sperling started University of Phoenix to provide adults with more options to achieve higher learning. The University aims to improve student lives and strengthen communities with access to quality education and ongoing support. Additional resources include career services, an online library and writing and math labs that help students succeed and thrive.
The University takes an innovative approach to education with courses taught by experienced, subject-matter experts. Flexible scheduling redefines what it takes to obtain higher education and advanced degrees such as associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees as well as certificates.