As I write this, thousands of Americans are dying each day from a disease that none of us had heard of mere months ago. In lieu of accurate and reliable government advice and information, politicization and conspiracy theories are taking hold. These are having real consequences, from the persecution of our Asian-American brothers and sisters to extreme charges that doctors themselves are in on the plot. Regardless of the tone and furor of these arguments, each day Americans struggle to take their last breath, separated from the ones they love. The number of dead is enormous, and the number of grieving families is greater still.
As artists, one of our most sacred duties is memorial. Memorial publicly acknowledges and locates grief in the wake of a mass tragedy. It provides comfort for those affected, and education for future generations. A memorial of artistic integrity, like Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, or the more recently opened lynching memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, illuminate the human cost of traumatic historical events.
Loss and grief are very private. Only a loved one knows the true impact of the loss of a particular wry smile, a perfect cookie recipe, or the way that wisdom is sometimes conveyed through a well-timed glance. This type of human experience cannot be captured even by the greatest artist, and a memorial doesn’t touch it. What it does however, is provide a sense of scale.
This crisis will eventually end, but none of us will make it through entirely unscathed. We have lost people we loved. We have sacrificed careers and even industries so that we would lose fewer of them. Even so, we have a short memory for pain. Seattle, as ground zero for the pandemic in America, would be the perfect location for a memorial to honor victims of the COVID-19 virus. We are already a city that takes public art seriously, and we should start the hard work involved in raising funds for and commissioning a national memorial.