Red, pink, and cream roses form a heart near Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in Downtown San Luis Obispo.
As part of the nationwide Floral Heart Project started by artist Kristina Libby, the installation commemorates those who have been impacted by COVID-19 as the U.S. hits the pandemic one-year mark.
PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
GRIEVING TOGETHER Noonan’s Wine Country Designs, the Downtown SLO Association, and Eufloria Flowers partnered to create a public floral installation to commemorate those lost to COVID-19.
Flower hearts were placed in public spaces throughout the United States on March 1, 2021, so passersby can take a moment to pay their respects and reflect.
Local floral designer Katie Noonan of Noonan’s Wine Country Designs told New Times she learned about the project through her industry ties and colleagues from across the nation.
As her peers were gearing up to participate, Noonan said she was dealing with the emotions of having a family member who contracted the virus.
“I just thought it was something where I could share my talent and spread a sort of happiness or peace with the fresh flowers,” she said. “I just feel like if that can turn someone’s day around, or make someone smile, it could really make someone feel a little bit better if they’re going through a hard time.”
According to the Floral Heart Project website, Libby began this project by researching the potential impacts the pandemic could have on society. She found that for every person who’s lost to the virus, two to nine people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Worried about the current state of our country, she felt that we could not withstand this deep psychological wound without help. Her contribution has been to create visualizations of those we have lost and to hold vigils and ritual ceremonies for those suffering as part of the Floral Heart Project,” the website states.
Noonan, the Downtown SLO Association, and Eufloria Flowers collaborated to donate the heart on display in Mission Plaza.
Downtown SLO CEO Bettina Swigger said she believes that public art can play a role in processing collective moments of grief.
As of March 2, 236 individuals had died from the virus in SLO County. Swigger said it was profound to watch the losses stack up during the latest surge and many people in the community might be grieving a lost loved one, a job, or cherished activities.
“There are a lot of ways that we can think about and process the collective grief we have for the pandemic but really honoring the lives that were lost is so important,” she said.
Swigger and Noonan both agreed that the mission felt like the right place for the public to reflect.
“The mission obviously is the heart of how we were founded. There are elements of grief and memory around how the mission was founded itself. The plaza has even become a place for public discourse and it just feels like the right time, the right place, and the right project,” Swigger said.
The floral heart will be on display for the rest of the week, or until the flowers wilt. ∆