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‘Celebration of Life’ public memorial” _builder_version=”4.9.4″ hover_enabled=”0″ sticky_enabled=”0″]
Throughout the past week, Jubilee Arts and the No Boundaries Coalition hosted a unique public memorial honoring lives lost over the past year. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Upton and Sandtown-Winchester communities (where the two nonprofits are based) have been struck disproportionately worse than many other neighborhoods in the city, so the memorial aims to heal and unite local residents.
The initial thought was to remember those who died from coronavirus-related causes, but community members were encouraged to celebrate the memory of loved ones who lost their lives to causes beside COVID-19, whether it was gun violence, an illness, natural causes, etc.
“We really wanted to be inclusive,” said Nora Howell, program director of Jubilee Arts and curator of the memorial. “We left it open. We just said ‘lives lost’ and anyone who wants to participate, can.”
Jubilee Arts, part of a larger nonprofit called Intersection of Change, uses arts as a tool for empowerment, community-building, learning history, and engendering change for the future. The community program provides dance, visual arts, business programs and more specifically to residents of West Baltimore.
The No Boundaries Coalition, a resident-led advocacy organization working to unify and empower Central-West Baltimore across the boundaries of race, class, and neighborhood, has held block parties, organized peace rallies and launched a produce market, among many other community-building initiatives and projects.
On an annual basis, Jubilee Arts and No Boundaries Coalition typically throw a “blowout block party” that attracts more than 1,000 people every spring. Due to local regulations regarding outdoor gatherings, the two organizations couldn’t hold a block party with the same capacity as they have in the past, but nonetheless, included a neighborhood advocacy-block party component in the first-ever memorial this year.
The public memorial, was held at 1947 Pennsylvania Avenue and featured photos of lost loved ones with messages of love and decorated flags honoring the memory of lives lost. Participants were encouraged to embellish flags to celebrate a specific person, their personal experiences during the pandemic and hopes for the future. Flags were displayed with sent-in photos on trees near the Jubilee Arts office.
According to Howell, the memorial is designed as more of a come-and-go event as opposed to a mass public gathering. Despite downward trending COVID-19 numbers, the event planners still wanted to be mindful of everyone’s safety in accordance with local guidelines.
Moreover, the public memorial also featured food trucks, a DJ and a live jazz band, but did not include the typical live performances, art activities and other related tasks that usually comprise the yearly block parties. On the bright side, this year’s event was the first step to Jubilee Arts’ reopening its programming.
Though the co-hosted memorial will ran from May 22 to May 28, the actual programming occurred on May 22 from noon to 3 p.m. For the remainder of the week, community members could walk through and look at the artwork and photos. Grief support resources were also available on site.
The past 14 months have been incredibly challenging for most Baltimoreans, especially the residents of Sandtown-Winchester, Upton and Druid Heights. The memorial event seeks to help move those communities forward as its residents continue to recover from the hardships produced by the pandemic.
“We all grieve differently, and we all certainly have had to drive in isolation, so we want to create a space for those who want to grieve collectively,” said Howell, who earned a master’s degree in community arts from Maryland Institute College of Art. “It has been so hard, and it’s been hard in different ways for different people. So I think that the ritual of coming together, or being outside and having music, and seeing something that is beautiful and meaningful can be just one part of folks’ grieving process.”