WASHINGTON, D.C. — One by one, each small flag tells a story. More than 660,000 of them unfurl into a sea of white, one for each life lost in America to COVID-19.
Some bear messages.
“The best big brother a little sis could ever want,” read one.
Another message said, “She made all who knew her feel safe and loved.”
The white flags spread out on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in a display of pandemic loss is called “In America: Remember.”
Artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg created the massive art installation.
“This is a national tragedy,” she said. “I was upset because people didn't seem to realize the amount of deaths that were happening. And so I wanted to, as a visual artist, to make it indeed visual.”
We met up with Brennan Firstenberg at her artist’s studio in the days leading up to the memorial’s installation.
“We have section markers that we have to organize. We have, most importantly, flags to write,” she said. “People are sending us flag dedications from all across the country.”
Inside the studio, volunteers carefully write onto each flag the name of someone lost in the pandemic, along with a dedication submitted on a website by loved ones.
“When I planned this art, I bought 630,000 flags and I bought those just in June,” Brennan Firstenberg said. “That's how much this has changed. A week ago, I ordered another 60,000 flags.”
It’s an art installation that continues to grow, with more flags added by the day to the more than 660,000 now planted there.
“’More than just a number - never forgotten,’” Brennan Firstenberg said, reading one of the flag dedications. “It really gets to the heart of why I created this in the first place. You know, people aren't just numbers.”
For those who can’t visit in person, a website allows people to look up a name and find the exact location of where a flag is planted. It’s a way of creating permanence to a temporary exhibit, which will wrap up on October 3.
“There is no place for people to go to mourn, and there's no place that really accumulates or aggregates our total loss,” Brennan Firstenberg said. “And so, this being on the National Mall marks that. It gives us that place.”
It’s a place that exists--at least, for now.
In addition to being able to see and interact with the exhibit online, there are also lesson plans developed by educators to help teachers bring the exhibit into classrooms.
For more information, or to make a flag dedication to a loved one lost to COVID-19, you can click here.