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COVID Ribbon Memorial of Florida on display in St. Petersburg

The project honors more than 32,000 Floridians who have died from the coronavirus.
The COVID Ribbon Memorial of Florida at the Morean Center for Clay before the beginning of the We Remember Them Memorial event on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
The COVID Ribbon Memorial of Florida at the Morean Center for Clay before the beginning of the We Remember Them Memorial event on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Mar. 24
Updated Mar. 24

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 Covid Ribbon Memorial of Florida is seen at the Morean Center Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg. The Covid Ribbon Memorial is a public art exhibit by Cathy Tobias to memorialize and remember the lives lost to Covid in Florida.
The Covid Ribbon Memorial of Florida is seen at the Morean Center Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg. The Covid Ribbon Memorial is a public art exhibit by Cathy Tobias to memorialize and remember the lives lost to Covid in Florida. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

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.

Artist Cathy Tobias talks during the We Remember Them Memorial event at the Morean Center for Clay on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
Artist Cathy Tobias talks during the We Remember Them Memorial event at the Morean Center for Clay on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

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.

Artist Cathy Tobias ties a ribbon onto the COVID Ribbon Memorial of Florida at the Morean Center for Clay before the beginning of the We Remember Them Memorial event, on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
Artist Cathy Tobias ties a ribbon onto the COVID Ribbon Memorial of Florida at the Morean Center for Clay before the beginning of the We Remember Them Memorial event, on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

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.”

Artist Cathy Tobias, left, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman talk while walking along the COVID Ribbon Memorial of Florida at the Morean Center for Clay before the beginning of the We Remember Them Memorial event on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
Artist Cathy Tobias, left, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman talk while walking along the COVID Ribbon Memorial of Florida at the Morean Center for Clay before the beginning of the We Remember Them Memorial event on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

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.

Kathy Flora talks about the death of her mother due to COVID-19 during the We Remember Them Memorial event, at the Morean Center for Clay on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
Kathy Flora talks about the death of her mother due to COVID-19 during the We Remember Them Memorial event, at the Morean Center for Clay on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“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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