ST. PETERSBURG — An intimate gathering on Wednesday honored more than 32,000 Florida residents who have died from COVID-19.
The We Remember Them Memorial event centered around an art installation, the COVID Ribbon Memorial of Florida. The long chains of colorful ribbons fluttered outside of the Morean Center for Clay at 420 22nd St. S in St. Petersburg.
The project is the brainchild of Anna Maria Island-based photographer, Cathy Tobias. In November, she conceived of a tangible installation representing each person in Florida who died from COVID-19 when the death toll was 16,000 people.
“I’d been contemplating the change of what’s happening to us and wanted to do something to acknowledge the enormous numbers of death,” Tobias said in a phone interview.
With the help of her sister, Judy, and friends and volunteers, colorful ribbons were tied to long strands of string.
The project debuted on the beach at Anna Maria Island in February. By then, the death toll was at 29,000. People wrote names of lost ones on some of the ribbons.
Now, the 900-foot installation, spanning the size of three football fields, includes more than 32,000 ribbons.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was in attendance at Wednesday’s event.
“I don’t know how you can’t be moved by it,” Kriseman said as he looked at the installation. “This is why this is really powerful, is that it’s easy to get lost in numbers. When you see that each of these represents someone’s life who is gone, it’s visual and we tend to be a visual society.”
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Kathy Flora, who lost her mother to the coronavirus in April, spoke at the event. She discovered Tobias’ project in Anna Maria Island and talked of how the memorial eased some of her grief because of the public recognition of those lost.
“I just want to do this as long as its meaningful to people” Tobias said. “I would love to see this travel around Florida, so that other people can come remember, grieve and heal, which we haven’t been able to do in a COVID world.”
If you go
The COVID Ribbon Memorial of Florida remains on view at the Morean Center for Clay through the end of March. Visitors are encouraged to write names of lost loved ones on the ribbons, post pictures and tag them @covidribbonmemorial. 420 22nd St. S, St. Petersburg.
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