New public art planned for Ashland – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

Piece inspired by the Say Their Names t-shirt installation

T-shirts in the Say Their Names art installation are showing signs of degradation after their two-year vigil on the fence behind the Ashland Railway Park. [Morgan Rothborne/Mail Tribune]

A concept design for the new sculpture proposed for Ashland Creek Park titled “Crystalize Our Call,” from the Say Their Names Memorial Facebook page.

The Say Their Names art installation started with shirts in 2020, but over the years it has accumulated flowers and signs, and the wall often grows in response to new murders, such as the shooting of Aidan Ellison in November 2020. [Morgan Rothborne/Mail Tribune]

The shirts at the Say Their Names art installation in Ashland’s Railroad Park are diverse, some clearly store-bought with slogans or names printed on them, others handmade or altered. Most bear the names of black lives lost to racial violence. [Morgan Rothborne/Mail Tribune]

As of June 28, 2020, visitors to Ashland’s Railroad Park have found more than 100 shirts lining the fence between the park and the railroad tracks.

The shirts bear the names of black Americans who lost their lives due to racial violence.

Some names are recognizable from the 2020 protests over the killing of George Floyd, which inspired the communal art installation. Shirts of Freddie Gray and Breonna Taylor hang next to more obscure names, like Herman Arthur, who was lynched in Texas in 1920.

Two years later, a new public art installation is in the process of being approved for the city of Ashland. A sculpture titled “Crystallizing Our Call” is the creation of artist and motivational speaker Micah BlackLight.

“I’m deeply grateful that this conversation is even on the table,” BlackLight said.

“The vision was always that something would come out of this,” said Tía Laída Fé, a local racial justice organizer and performance artist affiliated with the collective Say Their Names from the installation’s second iteration. lation

A month after hanging the shirts on the fence, an as yet unknown person or group removed them.

“The first installation, it was taken down overnight, and the next day there were more T-shirts than before,” said BlackLight, citing this outpouring of community support as a major inspiration for his work.

The new statue will be a collaborative effort between BlackLight, sculptor Jack Langford and KCI Waterjet Cutting, a White City company that will help realize some of the more complex features of the design.

The sculpture is described as “an angelic winged figure, and would symbolize an embodied collective ancestor. It would carry a book or tome with the names of fallen black and brown people, as well as a message from the community,” according to the minutes from the agenda of the June 17 meeting of the Public Arts Commission, when BlackLight presented the concept with Fé It was approved unanimously.

BlackLight said it has designed the tome to have six pages, one for a community-crafted statement of intent; the other pages will remember all the names of the shirt installation.

The statue will also feature a series of surrounding stones, BlackLight told the Public Arts Commission, that will be painted by community members, deepening the sense of community involvement in the piece.

“This is not stimulated by militancy; this is not spurred on by anger; this is a real call to conversation,” BlackLight said of the concept. “We’re about to build bridges — this is conversation incarnate.”

Despite the support that both BlackLight and Fé reported from the city of Ashland, the idea does not enjoy universal approval.

After a sketch of the statue was released to the public, Ken Engelund, chairman of the Public Arts Commission, received public comments he described as unpleasant.

“Public art is controversial. This one is about race, but it’s a very important piece,” Engelund said.

The Public Arts Commission and Ashland Parks and Recreation have approved the concept. Parks and Recreation provided a space for the piece at Ashland Creek Park. The design is now awaiting approval from the Ashland City Council. The project is not yet on the council’s schedule.

In his presentation to the Ashland Public Arts Commission, BlackLight described the sculpture as a gift to the city. Black Alliance & Social Empowerment has a fundraising campaign planned for most of the $114,000 to $140,000 cost.

He hopes the community nature of the work will deter vandalism.

Friends with experience in public sculpture told him there was a reason statues were often on pedestals. BlackLight rejected the security that comes from being out of range. The statue will sit on the ground, he said, where people can read the inscribed words and, hopefully, meditate with the piece.

“Some of the people who will help craft this message are young people. Someday they’ll bring their kids and point to that statement and say, ‘Hey, look at that; I did this. And that is powerful,” BlackLight said.

Those wishing to stay in touch with the project, donate or get involved with the community groups that support it can visit

Some Ashland residents have recently noted on social media that the shirts are showing signs of wear and tear, many dotted with black dots.

Fé said that while a community member has taken care of the shirts, he invites those who visit the shirt memorial to replace shirts that look the worse for wear or to add their number. The facility is collectively owned, he said.

What will become of the shirts now that a permanent piece is in place remains unknown, Fé said. How it is maintained, and whether it is maintained, will have to be a community decision, he said, stressing that, like the new piece, it is not the work of any one person.

Contact Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.

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