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Public Art Installation Draws Attention to Pedestrian Safety

Dozens of pedestrian cutout figures installed in the greenspace on the UTHSC campus stand as silent reminders of those who lost their lives while walking on Memphis streets in 2020.
Dozens of pedestrian cutout figures installed in the green space along Madison Avenue on the UTHSC campus stand as silent reminders of those who lost their lives while walking on Memphis streets in 2020.

Faculty, staff, and students arriving at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center this morning, as well as motorists traveling on Madison Avenue where it bisects the campus, were met with a stark and silent reminder of a major public safety problem across the city.

A traveling art installation set up in the green space across from UTHSC’s Madison Plaza Building features dozens of cutout figures representing pedestrians who were killed by a vehicle while walking on the streets of Memphis in 2020. Each 5-foot-tall figure bears the name of someone who died.

Titled “Naming,” the installation by artist Colin Kidder was brought to the prominent spot on the UTHSC campus by the Memphis Medical District Collaborative (MMDC).

“The intent is to create awareness around pedestrian safety in the Medical District,” said Rory Thomas, president of the MMDC. There are approximately 23,000 employees and 8,000 students in the various institutions in the Medical District, many of whom are walking from one destination to another all day long,” he said. “We want to create awareness for people to slow down and be aware of pedestrians.”

There were 68 motor vehicle-related pedestrian deaths across the city in 2020 and 64 so far this year, according to numbers from the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center, which is managed by UTHSC.

The movable art installation originated with the Heights Community Development Corporation. and was installed last summer on a street median north of Summer Avenue. Sydney Sepulveda, program coordinator for the Quality Public Realm Program for the MMDC, said the MMDC sought to bring it to the Medical District, where it will remain for a month.

“We scoped out that spot (at UTHSC) close to the mid-block crossing that a lot of students use and in front of Regional One as a prime location to call attention to the issue,” Sepulveda said. Read more about the installation and about the MMDC’s Be Aware campaign to raise awareness for pedestrian safety in the district at mdcollaborative.org/naming.

“This expression of art is a sobering reminder of all the innocent lives that have been needlessly lost as pedestrian fatalities here in Memphis,” said Ken Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, FACHE, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer at UTHSC. “Pedestrian safety for our students, staff, and faculty is of the utmost importance to us, and we’re glad to do our part as members of the MMDC community to ensure in every way possible there are no pedestrian fatalities in the Medical District and that across the City of Memphis our message resonates for everyone to remain pedestrian aware.”