On the wall of Self Help Graphics and Art in Boyle Heights are 197 handmade roses—the number of lives cut short by COVID-19 in Boyle Heights and unincorporated East LA.
"It is exceptionally devastating for communities of color and communities that experience poverty and economic disadvantage," said Tilly Hinton, co-founder of the Rose River Memorial Project.
It was first unveiled for Dia de los Muertos and is set against a 2016 mural by a Oaxcan muralist. Sadly, at a time when Covid cases are surging, especially in communities of color.
"Day by day, this artwork is out of date," Hinton said.
But it's not out of touch. Hinton and her co-founder, Marcos Lutyens, have been calling on strangers across the country to make roses out of red felt and glue and mail them to her team. She says it only takes a few minutes to create something simple, but powerful.
"Making the roses and thinking about that rose being for one life that was taken really allowed them to process the grief and the trauma of this," Hinton said.
So far, they’ve received hundreds of handcrafted roses from at least seven states, both from those who have lost loved ones and others who just want to offer support and connect during these difficult times.
"I remember that every rose is an empty seat at a Thanksgiving table. Every rose is a lifetime of memories that will never get made because of a pandemic that could have played out differently," Hinton said.
Her goal is to get enough roses made to eventually have community installations set up all across America to represent local death tolls…and ultimately, a large national memorial with a rose for every American who died in the pandemic.
"I hope and pray that before too long, there are no more roses that need making," she said.
But until then, the crowdsourced art project is helping grapple with the scale of this tragedy while ensuring no one is forgotten.
The next art installation will be in Santa Monica sometime in December.
Ideally, Hinton wants to have a national memorial set up by Winter 2021, but would need tens of thousands of roses each month and more community support to make it happen.