Artists, Burbank Officials Honor Local COVID-19 Victims

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
Artist Marcos Lutyens spoke at an event in front of Burbank City Hall on Monday introducing a temporary memorial of felt roses honoring the 242 residents who died of COVID-19.

A garden of fabric stands in front of Burbank City Hall in memory of residents who have died from COVID-19.

Two hundred and forty-two roses made of felt are arrayed outside the building on a large model of the first letter of Burbank’s name. Each flower represents a local resident who has died of COVID-19. 

Mayor Bob Frutos’ mother, Isabel, is one of the 242 who are commemorated. She died of the coronavirus in February, he said, after coming into contact with a woman who didn’t know she had the disease.

On Monday, Frutos stood at a podium in front of the rose memorial and told a small crowd about his mother — and what he called “the importance of the arts as a community healing process.” Minutes later, he designated the first Saturday in March as COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day.

“Everybody was affected by COVID-19,” Frutos said in an interview after the event. “Everybody either knew somebody or lost a family member. But this here is a symbol of the acknowledgement … that we will never forget.

“But the healing process — through the art, through the roses or the sound of the beautiful music — to reflect on lost loved ones is so critical for the city to heal and to continue to move forward.”

The local Rose River Memorial installation will remain in front of City Hall through Tuesday. The pop-up project is spearheaded by Los Angeles-based artist Marcos Lutyens, who plans to take the roses — along with others he has received from donors across the country during the pandemic — to a national memorial in Washington, D.C., for the more than 600,000 Americans who have died of the coronavirus. 

The felt flowers themselves were assembled by members of the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association and the Burbank Volunteer Program. A handful have the names of local residents written on the petals.

Other roses made of the material are present on fish nets draped over the tall hedges near the front of City Hall; altogether, the display memorializes a fraction of the more than 24,000 people who have died of the coronavirus across Los Angeles County.

“This memorial is for our family, friends and neighbors who have had to mourn the loss of their loved ones alone, isolated and without support,” Leah Harrison, chair of the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission, told attendees on Monday. “Because as we celebrate the beginning of summer and the opening of our communities, there are hundreds of thousands of people that are still under a veil of grief.”

Lutyens wasn’t the only artist paying tribute on Monday to lives lost. Frutos’ proclamation was preceded by a performance by musician Levi Chen, who composed a song in honor of his father, who died of a respiratory crisis during the 2004 SARS outbreak, though not from that disease.

Chen’s performance was followed by a speech from Frutos, who thanked Lutyens for his work on the memorial and urged residents to visit it.

“Please, bring your neighbors, bring the children, because this is important. We cannot forget this,” Frutos said. “Please get the word out. It’s here for you, the community.”

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
Burbank Mayor Bob Frutos applauds while attending an event commemorating local residents who have died of COVID-19. Frutos’ mother, Isabel, died of the disease in February.

Also performing at the event were Jocelyn Wright, who sang an original piece and delivered a memorial poem; cantor Rebekah Mirsky, who sang a prayer in English and Hebrew; and local residents Connie Nassios and Ken Berry, who performed a song written during the pandemic.

But for Lutyens and Tournament of Roses secretary Robin Hanna, there was a tangible emotional break when Grammy-nominated violinist Tony Selvage played one of his compositions, which incorporated the melodies of “Taps” and “Amazing Grace.”

“I kind of felt this kind of break,” Lutyens said. “Usually in society, everything’s structured and everybody keeps their place and people are all normal and sensible, and in that moment it seemed like everyone’s heart kind of came out and came together.”