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The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 is on track to pass a number next week that once seemed unthinkable: Half a million people in this country dead from the coronavirus.
And while the pandemic isn’t over yet, and the death toll keeps climbing, artists in every medium have already been thinking about how our country will pay tribute to those we lost.
Poets, muralists, and architects all have visions of what a COVID-19 memorial could be. Many of these ideas are about more than just honoring those we’ve lost to the pandemic. Artists are also thinking about the conditions in society that brought us here.
Tracy K. Smith, a former U.S. poet laureate, has already written one poem honoring transit workers in New York who died of the disease. Smith says she wants to see a COVID-19 memorial that has a broader mission and invites people to bridge a divide.
Paul Farber runs Monument Lab, an organization that works with cities and states that want to build new monuments. He says he wants to see a COVID-19 monument that is collective experience and evolves over time. He also wants it to serve as a bridge to understanding.
Farber’s list describes one of the most powerful memorials in recent American history: the AIDS quilt. Mike Smith, co-founder of that memorial, says that one focus of the AIDS quilt project that he would like to see in a COVID-19 memorial is inspiring communities to come together and not to isolate in processing and remembering those who died.
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This episode was produced by Lee Hale, Noah Caldwell and Jonaki Mehta. It was edited by Sami Yenigun with help from Sarah Handel, Courtney Dorning and Wynne Davis. Our executive producer is Cara Tallo.