Words by Matheson Eller
Art. It excites, inspires, educates, questions, and uplifts.
Flowers. For celebration, for mourning, for congratulations, for gratitude, and for no reason in particular.
What do art and flowers have in common, you may ask? The gift of unity. Despite circumstances or backgrounds, art and flowers both possess the power to bring people together in happy and hard moments of life.
During the first weeks of summer, the city of Birmingham, along with many other cities across the nation, were coping with the pain from the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. Many grief-stricken groups across America channeled their sadness, anger, and confusion into destruction of buildings and businesses. Birmingham dealt with these common after-effects—many storefronts boarded up their doors and windows, and city streets were littered with shattered glass.
The heart-breaking and gut-wrenching manner of these murders and the events that followed struck Carolyn Chen, owner of Wild Things Flowers & Curiosities in Birmingham. When reminded of her resources at hand—flowers and connections throughout the city—Chen sprung to action. She served as the braintrust for the adornment of the iconic Rotary Trail Arch with fresh flowers on June 5.
According to Wild Things’ blog, Chen had a desire to provide the city with a moment of happiness and a reminder of the good that remains in the world—and in all of us. Providing the city she calls home something else to look at other than the news, graffiti, or destruction, Chen rallied a plethora of Birmingham floral businesses to make her idea of a larger-than-life floral arch come to fruition.
The Birmingham Rotary Club quickly approved the installation, and more than 30 florists agreed to donate and participate. Without hesitation, they got to work. Throughout the day, professional florists and city residents alike joined in the process of intertwining the arch structure with colorful blooms and lush greenery. With the generous donations of flowers and other necessary equipment and tools, the floral arch was completed in no time. Chen facilitated a work of art that expanded beyond just the industry that made it happen.
Many city residents stopped by to visit the arch and pose for momentous photographs—some even taking professional wedding and engagement photos with the arch as the backdrop.
Near the top corner of the arch installation, a small gap in the buds remains. This is purposeful, according to Chen via Wild Things’ blog. Instead of creating a continuous flow of flowers in the arch, Chen deliberately chose to leave a portion untouched by blooms, representing the gap between where we are as a nation and city with racial relations, and how far we have to go.
The combination of flowers and art culminated to a space, place, and moment for the city of Birmingham. Chen, along with the multitude of other florists, provided their fellow residents with a place and a moment to stop, enjoy, reflect, mourn, and dream for a better tomorrow.
An installation such as this—the stunning adornment of an iconic city landmark with an even more powerful message motivating its existence will not be forgotten, just like the unfairly taken lives of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor.