Fairfax County selects artists to design and build COVID-19 memorial

Artists Salvatore Pirrone and Miriam Gusevich have been selected to design Fairfax County’s COVID-19 memorial (courtesy ArtsFairfax)

Fairfax County is envisioning its forthcoming COVID-19 memorial as a space for reflection — something that’s been difficult to come by since the pandemic upended life temporarily for some and more permanently for others.

The concept comes from artists Miriam Gusevich and Salvatore Pirrone, who have been chosen to design and build the memorial, ArtsFairfax announced Monday (Aug. 21).

“We need memorial spaces and artworks to help us appreciate the bonds we share as human beings,” ArtsFairfax President and CEO Linda Sullivan said. “With such artworks, engagement invites us to learn from our pain and redouble our efforts to lift up each other every day, not just in emergencies.”

A nonprofit designated as the county’s official arts agency, ArtsFairfax and the Fairfax County Arts Committee selected Gusevich and Pirrone unanimously after putting out an open call for artists earlier this year.

According to ArtsFairfax, the pair proposed “a tall and slender memorial” called “Circles of Memory” that will “protect a contemplative space” in honor of local residents who have died from COVID-19, along with the health care workers, first responders and others involved in the county’s emergency response.

The memorial will be installed in front of the county’s Public Safety Headquarters and Herrity Building at 12055 Government Center Parkway.

“The monument will be comprised of a 27-foot tall hollow concrete cone, divided by a break in the center and topped with an oculus from which to view the sky. Visitors will be invited to sit inside the structure and on the surrounding benches,” ArtsFairfax said.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed county staff in February 2022 to start planning for a memorial that will symbolize the pandemic’s impact on the local community.

Since then, Covid has ceased to be designated as an official public health emergency both locally and nationally, but the disease continues to spread, albeit at lower levels of severity than in previous years. As of yesterday (Tuesday), the Fairfax Health District had recorded 273,842 cases, 5,403 hospitalizations and 1,794 deaths, according to Virginia Department of Health data.

The county’s memorial will create a communal space for visitors to acknowledge those losses.

“We hope to provide an environment that will bring people together,” Pirrone said. “The memorial strives to be a place of reverence for the lives lost and the people who honor them.”

The design will be finalized after the artists conduct a full site review, according to ArtsFairfax Director of Communications Allison Mui.

The agency says the project will take “several months to complete,” including opportunities for members of the public to meet the artists, discuss the design concepts and “share experiences.”

“Art does not cure, yet it can help us heal. Creativity can offer renewal; through it we can nurture faith in the future,” Gusevich said.

Here’s more on Gusevich and Pirrone from the press release:

Miriam Gusevich is a Cuban American environmental artist, architect, scholar, and educator. She was a Loeb Fellow (1997) at Harvard University and received her bachelor’s degree (1975) and master’s degree (1979) in architecture from Cornell University. Her built memorial projects include the “Jane Addams Memorial” (with Louise Bourgeois) and the “Cancer Survivor’s Garden” in Grant Park (with Julie Gross), both in Chicago. “Remember Sambir,” a Holocaust memorial site in Western Ukraine that she began with Peter Miles, is under construction and on hold because of the war.

Recent international commissions include two memorial masterplans in Kyiv, Ukraine: “Constellations” a memorial for Euro-Maidan (2015) and “Yahrzeit Candles” a memorial for the victims of Babyn – Yar (2016), and the “Zenicka Kilim,” in Bosnia – Herzegovina (2019). She is a Washington, D.C. resident and was a tenured professor at the Catholic University of America from 2000-2020.

Salvatore Pirrone is an American artist, designer, and educator. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree (2007) from Parsons at The New School in New York City, and a master’s degree in architecture (2000) from the University of Florida. He has exhibited regionally at Arlington Arts Center, Atlas Performing Arts Center, Cultural DC’s Mobile Art Gallery, Sandy Spring Museum, Transformer, Arlington Project for Affordable Housing, Maryland Art Place, Hillyer Gallery, and the Dittmar House at Marymount University. He lives and works in Upper Marlboro, Md. and is a tenured associate professor of Design and Art at Marymount University in Arlington, Va.