Last Sunday, Baltimore muralist Michael Owen set out to paint a vibrant mural on a wall facing Pulse nightclub in Orlando in homage to the victims who died in a mass shooting there this summer. He finished the project before the week was out, and the end result is a stunning tribute.
The mural honors the lives lost at Pulse on June 12, when a gunman stormed into the gay nightclub, began shooting and did not stop until 49 people were dead and 53 wounded.
Owen, known around Baltimore for his 20 LOVE murals that he installed throughout the city, painted the hallmark hands shaping the word “LOVE” and surrounded it with a lighter purple backdrop and white orange blossom flowers. Each one memorializes a lost victim.
Owen wrote last Thursday, which coincidentally marked Spirit Day, an anti-bullying awareness day supporting LGBTQ youth, that the process of designing each flower was draining as he recounted the tragedy. “What a massive loss,” he wrote on Facebook. “How do you process that?”
The Baltimore LOVE Project raised $3,000 for Owen to paint his project at that location on Orange Avenue. It took some time to find the right place, according to reporting in the Orlando Sentinel, but Owen and arts consultant and manager Katherine Womer Benjamin managed to secure permits from the city and Einstein’s Bagels to paint it on a wall across the street from Pulse. Scott Burkholder, executive director of the Baltimore LOVE Project, helped to secure funding for it, Womer said.
“It was the easiest hard work I’ve ever done,” said Womer Benjamin. “It was a big undertaking finding a wall owner to consider the project, but once we did, it was full steam ahead.”
Womer Benjamin has worked with Owen on other projects, but this was her first time helping to facilitate a new “LOVE” wall.
Owen went to art school in Baltimore and lives here, but he arrived here by way of Orlando. He graduated from Dr. Philips High School in 2000 and told Orlando Weekly last week he still has family there.
The Sentinel describes a scene of appreciative city residents stopping by throughout last week to thank Owen as he worked on the mural. Some of them cried, some bore gifts and some simply drove by and honked in appreciation.
By the time he had finished, Owen had brought them a beautiful reminder from Baltimore that love is quite literally there for all to share, even amid tragedy and loss.
A previous version of this article wrongly stated Burkholder helped to secure the permits. Womer Benjamin was actually instrumental in that effort.
Ethan McLeod is an associate editor for Baltimore Fishbowl.
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