New Healing Memorial at TCF Center creates space to reflect, remember

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

A blank wall in Detroit's TCF Center is a now a large scale art installation dedicated to loss and healing amid COVID-19 -- one pouch at a time.

The installation, called the Healing Memorial, was unveiled Tuesday on the third floor of  TCF's north end near the intersection of Congress and Washington. Thirty two panels are each adorned with 40 to 60 fabric pouches, all handmade by residents from all over Metro Detroit since mid-June in memory of loved ones or other losses.

Inside each pouch is a handwritten message from the maker -- a prayer, memorial, poem or note.

The 'Healing Memorial,' a large scale art installation made up of hundreds, and growing, of colorful fabric pouches with notes inside, created by southeast Michigan residents to help heal from the loss of the pandemic.

"The people represented on this wall -- it's hard to overstate who these people are," said Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, who commissioned the memorial along with the City of Detroit's arts office and Cranbrook Art Museum. "Detroit has lost a lot. But every person on this wall is also represented by a person who remains here in the city and has come together to make these memorial pieces."

Even with roughly 1,200 pouches now in place, organizers say the Healing Memorial will continue to grow with more pouches and panels throughout the fall and into next year. The memorial will stay in place until Aug. 31, 2022.

The installation "causes us to remember all of the sacrifices, all of the loss, all of the memories," said Conrad Mallet Jr., Detroit's deputy mayor. It offers a space for people "to reflect, to remember, to take their time and bring back as best they can the memories of their loved ones."

Tuesday's unveiling comes on what's been designated Detroit's Memorial Day and one year after a moving tribute on Belle Isle that included more than 900 photo billboards of some of the city's COVID victims.

"At that point, 1,500 people had died," said Rochelle Riley, Detroit's director of arts, culture and entrepreneurship. "That number has grown and continues to grow."

This year, to recognize the city's losses and create a different kind of memorial, Riley reached out to Wallace at the Riverfront Conservancy. Wallace connected with Laura Mott, curator of contemporary art and design at the Cranbrook Art Museum, who suggested meeting with internationally renowned fiber artist Sonya Clark. The installation is based on Clark's Beaded Prayers project, which also is made of amulets, or beaded prayers, with a message inside.

"It was very participatory and it gave people a chance to work together and make some memories," said Riley, who plans to host her own making station later this year and made a pouch for her dog that died in February.

Mott, from Cranbrook, said Detroit's Healing Memorial is the first time Clark's highly regarded Beaded Prayers project has been adapted for a city or a condition. Clark has said that amulet traditions date back to a wide variety of cultures in Africa and across the world.

The City of Detroit, Cranbrook Art Museum, TCF Center and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy reveal the 'Healing Memorial,' a large scale art installation to help the community heal from loss in the pandemic at the TCF Center in Detroit, Michigan on August 31, 2021.

To create the Healing Memorial panels, the Riverfront Conservancy hosted 30 "making stations" across the city -- many along the Dequindre Cut and riverfront -- to make pouches for loved ones. Local artists and residents also hosted their own stations.

Some people sat down and "they weren't sure what they were about to experience. And then it became really powerful," said Rachel Frierson, the Riverfront Conservancy's director of programming who lost her own husband last year, though not to COVID.

The pouches vary in shape, size and texture -- some in shiny, bright fabrics, others trimmed with beads. One pouch has a small heart fastened to the center. Another is made from what appeared to be custom-made fabric with photos of a couple. A cross dangles from the center.

The 'Healing Memorial,' a large scale art installation made up of hundreds, and growing, of colorful fabric pouches with notes inside, created by southeast Michigan residents to help heal from the loss of the pandemic.

When Cranbrook started to assemble the panels in mid-August, Mott said it was amazing to see the level of detail in the pouches.

"It was extremely touching," said Mott. "You could see how much energy and attention went into the pouches."

Riley said after a year focused on pain, the next should be about healing.

"We're going to focus on healing and getting better and honoring those that we lost in ways that show we continue to live in ways they'd want us to live," she said.

Detroit's Healing Memorial

Installed on the third floor of the TCF Center's north entrance at Washington Boulevard and Congress

In place until Aug. 31, 2022

To learn about upcoming making stations, go to