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Detroit has officially joined the list of cities across the globe with a #WhatLiftsYou mural by international street artist and social media phenomenon Kelsey Montague. She spoke to the Free Press about what makes this mural special.

There really are angels in Detroit. And you could be one them — sort of.

Any passerby in downtown Detroit can simply stand against the wall at 1500 Woodward Ave. and instantly grow broad, intricately decorated wings. And many people already have, posing in front of the new mural and posting photos of themselves on social media.

It’s part of a viral trend that has literally spread across the globe, with everyday people and celebrities like Taylor Swift and others, lining up to take their angel or Icarus star turn. And now the feathery phenomena has landed in Detroit, further boosting the street cred of the Motor City as a haven — or heaven? — for open-air artworks. 
 
The new mural joins an expansive network of other interactive pieces created by international street artist Kelsey Montague, whose success largely has been fueled by the power of social media.

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Tyler Wade and his wife, Debi, who were visiting from Canada, stopped by the Detroit mural because they’d seen Montague’s “Wings” before in Toronto. 

“It makes you draw into the area, public art is good to help you sort of enjoy the space wherever you’re in it,” he said. 

The idea started when Montague had the opportunity to draw on a rotating art wall in New York City in 2014, and she chose angel wings.  

Montague said she’d been drawing her whole life and grew up in a family of artists who surrounded her with images, specifically, of a lot of birds, feathers and wings. She signed the creation with her social media handle @kelseymontagueart and the hashtag, #WhatLiftsYou.

“I added the #WhatLiftsYou to it, because I wanted to create something that inspired other people and used social media in a good way, so it just seemed like the right thing,” Montague said.

The interactive subject matter did more than just stick. It went viral.

“It was amazing, the reaction was immediate. I think within seven days, Taylor Swift and a handful of celebrities were standing in front of it and my name got out there even more. … it’s just really cool how social media and art have intersected,” she said.

Montague said this mural is made specifically for Detroit, and she incorporated details that represent experiences she had in the city. (Photo: Courtesy of Woodward Original)

A barrage of social media followers and users tagging Montague’s pieces paved the way for an interactive artwork series and a creative business with her and her sister Courtney.

Now, more than three years in the making, Montague has amassed 59.2K followers on Instagram, 1,078 followers on Twitter and 9,100 page likes on Facebook.

“The platforms have really changed my life,” Kelsey Montague said. “It’s so cool that there’s so many avenues that artists can take now, and social media has really opened up that door of letting artists reach their audiences so much faster and building their careers in a completely new way.”

Working in tandem with her sister, Montague said the two spend three of four weeks every month traveling to create murals in cities around the globe. Her work has brought her from Australia to Europe, Hong Kong to South Africa and to many U.S. cities — like, Nashville, Denver, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Grand Rapids and now, Detroit.
 
“Detroit. I’ve been obsessed with the city for so long,” Kelsey Montague said. I’ve wanted to come out, especially creating a piece of art. It’s almost a rite of passage, because there’s so many incredible murals. And I think Detroit is just this amazing, strong city and they have an amazing food scene and an amazing entrepreneurial scene, and the art scene is just out of this world.”

Montague’s downtown project was completed on Oct. 31, but has continued to draw admirers. 

Ashley Ketco, a CBRE retail services associate from Farmington Hills who has been working on developing and leasing in The District Detroit area of downtown, said she was familiar with the angel wings from when she used to live in Los Angeles and is happy to see the artwork in Detroit. 

“It’s a great way to highlight art in the city and get people to engage in social media to promote the city,” Ketco said. 

The project was sponsored by Woodward Original, a startup production company under Quicken Loans that launched in February 2017.
 
Woodward Original Marketing Specialist Hannah Ervin said they are focused on creating original content out of Detroit. So when CEO Jonathan Braue was referred to the Montague sisters and the team heard their story, they knew they wanted to bring wings to Detroit.

Once the Montagues were in the city, Woodward Original Associate Producer Ashley Carey said the company made the sisters a video they could use to launch their upcoming YouTube channel and pitch to networks for a potential TV series. She said the footage is set to be published online around the end of December.

“It’s two sisters behind the one name, so we wanted to show their audience who those people are, who they are to each other, and what they do and what they aspire to do: Diving into different cultures and communities all over the world, trying to get to know the community as well as the artistic scene there, and leave a little mark from them to every community that they go to,” Carey said.

Bedrock Detroit, which owns the space where the mural was painted, donated the wall for use. And per current plans, Carey said the mural will be staying downtown indefinitely.

 “They (Bedrock) don’t plan to do anything with that wall anytime soon, and they said, in the near future they don’t see anything that will change that as well,” she said.

An end to her interactive pieces also is not in sight, as Montague said she’ll be creating for communities for as long as she can. Her most recent pieces have popped up in San Francisco and Chicago, with one in progress in Miami.

For more information, visit kelseymontagueart.com or @kelseymontagueart on Instagram. Behind the scenes looks of Montague’s process and moments with her sister are posted on @montaguesisters.

Contact Aleanna Siacon: ALEANNASIACON.TSE@GMAIL.COM
 

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