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Georgia Southern art professor wins global COVID-19 monument design contest

Georgia Southern University Art Professor Casey Schachner has won a global design contest. Her design for the COVID-19 Monument of Honor, Remembrance, and Resilience, selected by the COVID-19 Monument Commission, will be unveiled in Chicago in spring 2025.
Casey Schachner wins global COVID-19 monument design contest

Menacing spiked images of the coronavirus have been reimagined with a gentler profile for a global design contest, which was recently won by Georgia Southern University Art Professor Casey Schachner

In honor of the five-year marker of the pandemic, Schachner’s winning design for the COVID-19 Monument of Honor, Remembrance, and Resilience, selected by the COVID-19 Monument Commission, will be unveiled in Chicago in spring 2025. The monument will be a major outdoor public sculpture and park.

Submissions for the global contest were open to interpretation.

“There weren’t a lot of specifications of what they were looking for,” said Schachner. “They just wanted this monument that would both honor the lives lost and be in remembrance to first responders. So it was really inspiring to me. Obviously, COVID affected all of us.”

Following deep research dives into the pandemic, the dandelion emerged as Schachner’s muse.

“Besides all of the data of lives lost and the massive impact of the pandemic, I kept coming across that medical illustration of the COVID-19 virus, which we all can imagine,” she said. “The sphere with the little tendrils coming out felt very similar to plants. Then I started thinking about plants and landing on how similar the image was to a dandelion head, particularly the puffy dandelion. I started thinking more about the symbolism of plants alongside COVID because plants are about rebirth and regrowth. So I started digging into the symbolism and significance of dandelions. And it’s interesting because all across the world they have these themes of resilience. They also have a lot of medicinal qualities, so wellness and recovery kept coming up.”

Dandelions also stir memories of youthful innocence.

“It’s so identifiable, you know, even for a child,” she said. “We remember blowing the dandelions and watching them. It’s sort of magical.”

Schachner, who won $20,000 for her design, is currently consulting with the COVID-19 Monument Committee in Chicago that will bring the soaring 20 to 30-foot outdoor display of yellow dandelions and a flurry of their tufts, to fruition. 

In order for the monument to become a reality, there is a grassroots fundraising campaign. At present, the COVID-19 Monument Commission is fundraising to construct the piece that will reside on a plot of land within the Illinois Medical District, which is one of the largest urban medical districts in the nation. 

“Based on what I know of similar-scale sculptures and monuments, it’s going to require a pretty significant budget because they’re working from the ground up, with the foundation, electrical work and engineering to make sure that the pieces can be safe around the public.”

Schachner grew up in Florida and Hilton Head Island and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Baylor University and Master of Fine Arts from the University of Montana. While earning her undergraduate degree, she spent a semester abroad in Cortona, Italy, where she fell in love with stone carving, and then returned as an artist in residence within the program for a year. Once back home, she moved to Vermont and served in stone carving apprenticeships at local quarries. Later, she opened her own studio in Florida and then became a professor at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, before joining the faculty on the Armstrong Campus in Savannah in 2021.

As an assistant professor of art, she instructs Georgia Southern students on the principles and techniques of mixed media, including 3D design, ceramics, clay and soapstone carving, and metal welding and woodworking. 

Beyond processes, Schachner encourages her students to think about the type of emotion they want to evoke with their work, and what that could potentially mean in a public setting.

“There are different emotions for different pieces,” she explained. “I talk a lot about this in my classes. Are we making art for ourselves or making art for the assignment?”

Each semester, Schachner gives a public art assignment for which students seek an RFQ, or Request for Qualification, requiring them to share information on their qualifications and ability to create a public work and submit a proposal. Additionally, the Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art annually hosts an outdoor public art exhibition of sculptures made by students in Schachner and other art instructors’ 3D courses.  

“I tell them to design it and understand the parameters of what they’re designing for,” she explained. “You have to be willing to know the themes that you’re working within and to accept that everyone’s going to have an interpretation, and it’s important not to be too narrow-minded in your design approach. 

“So, it can be challenging. It can be interesting. I think different artists have different stands where they kind of want it to mean one thing and that’s it. I don’t particularly feel that way. I feel like once I’ve made something, I’ve made it from my place of inspiration. But when it’s out in the world, it can certainly take on new meaning. It’s also important where it’s being installed. It influences how people would view it and experience it, which is very different than if it were in a gallery.”

Schachner considered all of this when creating a design in honor of the global pandemic experience.

“It feels like an interesting time to be working on this,” she said. “It’s still relative. People are still experiencing loss and, you know, lives changed. So it feels important. I think it is going to be really powerful and important, and a place where people can share their own experiences.” 

The COVID-19 Monument Committee is working in collaboration with the Hektoen Institute of Medicine and the Illinois Medical District to create the physical monument structure. The public work will also be accessible to the world through virtual engagement. For more information on the monument and park, visit here.