MetroBridge Fall 2020 Recap: Community-Driven Design Concepts to Honor the Lives Lost to COVID-19 in Revere, MA.

By Claudia Chiappa

With 2020 behind us, it is now more important than ever to remember and honor everything that was lost during the coronavirus pandemic. This sentiment sparked a collaboration between MetroBridge, the City of Revere and a BU class in the College of Fine Arts.

The MetroBridge program helps connect BU students, faculty, and staff to local governments in a series of exciting and ambitious projects. These projects not only provided students the unique opportunity to work on real-life, impactful projects with neighboring cities, but they also offered partner organizations the chance to learn from these research projects.

The City of Revere, a state-designated “high-risk” community for COVID-19, has experienced 9,551 cases and 149 deaths as of February 27, 2021, according to the city’s Public Health Division. Last Fall, Assistant Professor Rébecca Bourgault and her Art, Community, and Social Engagement class worked with the city of Revere and the Revere Health Division to create community-driven design concepts and ideas to commemorate the lives the city lost to COVID-19.

Professor Bourgault and her students wanted to honor those deaths while also celebrating life in Revere.

“In fall 2020, we were given the opportunity to work with a specific community and a real issue: the loss of lives and the trauma the pandemic deaths caused in the Revere community,” explained professor Bourgault. “While, at first glance, the whole project may have sounded sad and depressing, students and I talked about the many ways a socially-engaged project could approach the concept of memorials.”

Throughout the semester, students worked closely with health providers, local officials, community leaders, and residents of the city to draft ideas that could effectively fit the City of Revere and its citizens. At the end of the semester, students provided the city with ideas and detailed designs that can not only memorialize the victims lost during the pandemic, but also start a “community healing process.”

Concepts varied in shape, material, and size, but all shared one common feature: They all highlight the importance of remembrance. Whether it was a labyrinth, a garden memorial, an abstract mural, or a festival, students focused on the importance of symbolism and, at the same time, on the impact these projects can have on the people of Revere.

“The readings and the art we looked at all opened up students’ sense of what was possible and how art provides a way to communicate that is open, that can be interpreted in different ways, no matter the community’s familiarity with history,” explained professor Bourgault. “Like poetry, the projects students proposed were never didactic but offered the possibility of finding beauty beyond the loss.”

Student Michael Hagen developed a project called “Trees of Eternity.” As a way to remember the over 100 victims of COVID-19 in the city, Hagen proposed planting over 100 trees, one for each victim, in an overlapping circular design. The project was driven by the idea that being among trees can contribute to happiness and even lowering stress levels, which is an additional benefit to the positive environmental impact it would have.

Every detail of the project has a specific meaning, from the choice of trees to the choice of design. The use of white-flowering dogwood trees, native of Massachusetts and known for blooming during spring and surviving changes in the climate, will remind the citizens of the lives lost during these tumultuous times. The overlapping circular design is meant to allow the design to continually grow and be extended, symbolizing eternity and also allowing for expansion as the pandemic continues to cause deaths around the globe.

Student Kateri Gemperlein-Schirm used abstract art to realize the idea of an abstract mural, ideally placed on the tide wall along Revere Beach. With distinct blocks and vibrant colors, the mural would successfully represent the uniqueness and importance of each life lost to the pandemic, while also highlighting the joy of life. Because abstract art “allows us to derive meaning from within ourselves,” the mural is open to individual interpretation and would provide a safe space for the people of Revere to reflect over the emotions brought on by the pandemic.

As shown by these examples, students in Bourgault’s class did not simply come up with an abstract idea, but rather addressed the technical details of the project, presented the target community, and outlined a realization timeline. The hope is that the City of Revere can utilize these concepts as potentially turn them into reality.

“Working on this project with MetroBridge, Rebecca and her students was a bright spot for the City of Revere during this extremely dark time,” noted Kim Hanton, City of Revere Chief of Staff. “What started out as an initiative to recognize those we have lost to COVID-19 grew into a celebration of life in Revere by honoring individuals, families and the community during this challenging time.”

Read the full student report

Learn more about other Fall 2020 MetroBridge projects here, and learn more about the MetroBridge program at bu.edu/ioc/metrobridge.