Boyle Heights' Rose River Memorial Project Honors Victims of COVID-19 Pandemic

The artist behind the project hopes to inspire a permanent memorial in Washington D.C.

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More than 320,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and that number is rising by more than a thousand each day.

Some local artists have come up with a unique way to honor those who've lost their lives with a memorial wall of roses.

The red rose, an eternal symbol of love, is being used to memorialize those who lost their lives to COVID-19.

It's called the Rose River Memorial Project, started in Boyle Heights by a group of local artists led by Marcos Lutyens.

After losing several friends to the pandemic, he turned his grief into something beautiful and created an art installation made of hand-crafted felt roses hung on a massive fishing net. Each flower represents one life lost, more than 200 in Boyle Heights.

"I chose the rose because it's used at funerals," Lutyens said. "It's put on caskets to honor the dead and it represents courage and valor in the face of death."

Lutyens, who plans installations throughout the U.S, chose the primarily Latino neighborhood as the first location for the project because it's been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.


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The roses hang over a mural made by Mexican artists on the wall of a community arts center called Self Help Graphics on First Street.

"In Boyle Heights and unincorporated East LA , the death rates have been through the roof," Lutyens said. "In fact every couple of weeks I come here to place more roses in the installation."

The roses are made by people from around the country who heard about the project online. They send them to Lutyens to include in the memorial.

A second wall is set up at Building Bridges Art Exchange in Santa Monica. Lutyens dreams of creating one in every city. He sketched the vision for a memorial in Washington D.C. to make visible the enormity of the loss.

"This isn't just a passing flash in the pan," Lutyens said. "This is something that will affect us for a long time and it's going to be remembered for years to come."

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