MTA Citywide Memorial in Honor of Workers Lost to COVID-19/
by Rafaela Prifti/
The death toll of COVID-19 pandemic is nearing half a million in the US. The grieving for the loved ones is made harder under ongoing restrictive measures. The outdoor memorials and candlelight vigils help to alleviate the sorrow. In New York, the MTA, the underground transportation system that keeps New Yonkers such as this one moving, opened its own memorial to honor the essential workers who were hard hit by COVID-19.
Throughout the subway system, portraits of MTA workers lost to the pandemic were on view through the first week of February. Director of the MTA Arts & Design department and a visual artist, Sandra Bloodworth initiated the project in collaboration with Cheryl Hageman and Victoria Statsenko. The data released by the MTA New York City transit confirms that 140 members of their workforce have passed away from COVID-19. The train operators and conductors have been affected at the highest rate. The in-memoriam slideshow consists of portraits of the deceased employees on displays at 107 subway stations in all five boroughs on screens where we are used to see maps and service changes, integrated with a newly commissioned poem, “Travels Far,” by the Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith and a nine-minute video, with audio by composer Christopher Thompson, at three times a day. The MTA officials said that it is important for the 55,000 employees to see the memorial as well — and know that they and their families are appreciated. One of the first employees who died last March, Peter Petrassi was a subway conductor and operations associate. In response to the first lives lost to the pandemic, the MTA launched a new unit to help liaise with their families. The team invited families from all MTA departments to submit portraits of the deceased employees. They are set against backdrops of MTA colors. Mostly New York City Transit workers who make up the majority of the portraits, some Long Island Rail Road and Metro North employees.
The agency head said that while coworkers and colleagues are still unable to gather in a physical space, they did not want to wait any more to pay respects in a special memorial. In the future, MTA will have a permanent memorial and in-person service.
The creative way to honor and celebrate the lives lost to COVID-19 serves as a touching reminder of the sacrifices of the essential workers whose work cannot be done from home. The memorial allows us to grieve with a deeper appreciation for the MTA employees who continue to keep the city moving.
The artwork stays up for a few weeks. Yet the riders carry the memorial in their ever-lasting motion on buses and trains.