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Community Engaged Floral Installations

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My name is Kathy Gore Fuss, and I am a visual artist living in Olympia, Washington. As the death toll from the pandemic increased to unimaginable numbers, I found myself unable to work as a studio artist; I was emotionally overwhelmed. One evening while watching a special report on the PBS Newshour, one of the doctors interviewed explained the massive losses the world was dealing with; the enormity of the grief that humanity was trying to cope with. I remember writing down these words that he said – “we will need places to mourn.”

I decided I would create floral memorials in my hometown to honor our community’s need to pause, reflect and grieve our collective losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. My first installation (“A Place to Mourn”) was self-funded and completed in May 2021 in my own NE Olympia neighborhood. The site location was outdoors, on a friend’s property, and near a street with high foot traffic. Fresh flowers were attached and wrapped around a stone sculpture. Garlands were hung in a circle from a huge walnut tree encircling a bench for visitors to sit, write in a journal, read a poem, and light a candle. The fresh flowers lasted 26 days, and the community members were overwhelmingly moved by the gift, gesture, and installation.

I created a second memorial, “A Place to Reflect,” in September 2021 in a neglected pocket park in Olympia’s Northwest neighborhood. The installation created an opportunity for the Neighborhood Association, neighbors, and families to revitalize a valuable gathering space returning it to its original stature. I contacted twelve of my friends and art collectors to help fund this installation, and they generously responded with the $1,200 that was necessary. The responses from my community have been tremendous.

The third piece was installed in downtown Olympia at Childhood’s End Gallery from June 17 through July 31, 2022, titled “A Place to Pause. Donations from private sponsors and a successful GoFundMe campaign raised over $7,200.00 from 100 donors to cover the costs of supplies. Forty-five community members volunteered their time in my studio over five weeks to create the 350 garlands that made up the 4’ X 7’ floral cloud. A journal, poem and bench situated underneath the installation offered another chance to experience beauty in a contemplative space. I hope that this collaborative work helps to create opportunities to pause in our lives while offering a chance to value and appreciate the connections we all have to a worldwide community. Help me transform our grief through beauty and experience.

Please help me continue my work to create spaces for us to heal. I have been invited to create a floral installation at Era Living Retirement University House, Wallingford, Seattle, in the summer of 2023. I will have the honor of working with many seniors who have spent their lives as educators. I am in the process of designing the installation and organizing the supplies we will use. One of the goals for this project is to work with local farms in the surrounding areas to help supply us with the necessary flowers to create this work.

Until now, these projects have been created by a small group of artists who have volunteered their time. As we move forward while the work increases in scale, we are committed to offering paid wages to the artists who help to organize, build, document and install the work. However, creating installations of this size, we always rely on the surrounding community members to volunteer their time to string the hundreds of garlands needed to produce these art installations. A significant part of these projects involve community engagement – we can’t do it without you!

“I visited your Place today, in the rain. What a gesture of human longing. A celebration of vulnerability. Thanks for your honest and loving work.”

“This is a beautiful project. I so appreciate that you and your wonderful assistants have created a space for quiet reflection and, as Maya Lin states in A Strong Clear Vision, a place to cry and remember. I hope you are well. You are in my thoughts.”

“You think of everything and act on everything. What a blessing you are to so many! Thanks. It looks beautiful.”

“What a nice visit I had today. Thank you for the beautiful garden and bench. Very serene. I needed it. The poem is beautiful too. You are special to have put it out there for us to have a place to grieve and grow grateful.”

“Very interesting, Kathy. In Judaism, we have and are taught from a young age Tikun Olam, the concept where we try to help and heal the world. This artistic concept you created fits right in that category. I will try to make it to Olympia to meditate on those special people I know plus the rest of humankind that has physically left us though their memories remain within us.”


Kathy Gore-Fuss
Olympia, WA

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