Thousands of flowers in rainbow hues were all destined for the trash.
For Bryan Sandy, manager of the Austin Flower Company, a floral wholesaler facing an indefinite closing starting Tuesday night because of the coronavirus epidemic, the idea was heartbreaking.
"It just seems like a big waste to throw away something that beautiful," Sandy said. "I’d rather have people enjoy it than just throw it away."
In an effort to spread the joy that flowers bring, Sandy partnered with a handful of local designers to create a sprawling floral installation on the Long Center’s H-E-B Terrace that appeared on Tuesday night and will stand as a love letter to Austin for the next 48 hours.
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For Katie Nopola, a freelance floral designer who helped organize the installation, it’s a way to spread light during a dark moment.
"It’s a very scary time for each and every one of us. We’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars between our companies. We’ve lost all our weddings until at least probably the fall," Nopola said. "It’s kind of our last chance to showcase a little beauty and bring a smile to people’s faces. Mother Nature is thriving in all of this, and, as artists, we want to create love and joy and happiness. We’re happy that we can do that in any capacity."
When Nopola became aware of the Austin Flower Company’s impending closure, she floated the idea of the installation to other floral designers including Samantha McCrary of Bricolage Curated Florals, Valerie Wolf of Davy Gray, Amy and Dale Dyer of Earl Grey Floral, and freelance designer Cherise Rivera.
Then, hoping to display the installation in an "iconic Austin setting," the designers contacted the Long Center to see if they would donate the space. Within an hour, the Long Center agreed.
"It’s so aligned with what we’re trying to do," said Cory Baker, president and CEO of the Long Center. "It’s a big, empty canvas with wonderful views. The idea of doing this installation, just something to brighten the spirits of the community in some way and as a thank you to Austin, we were so excited, because the entire mission of the Long Center is focused on connecting Austinites and building community."
After transporting three carloads of flowers that included roses, snapdragons and spider mums to the Long Center terrace on Tuesday afternoon, the designers — who minded rules of social distancing and used plenty of hand sanitizer — worked for three hours in 90-degree heat to create the installation.
It will be on display for two days, Baker said, adding that she hopes the public will heed the mayor’s shelter-in-place order and view the installation on the Long Center’s social media (@longcenter) instead of trying to see it in person.
"This will be the first of many innovative, different, exciting ways we’re going to come up with and prevail and keep everybody connected," Baker said, adding that the Long Center is already experimenting with livestreaming and virtual experiences to continue its arts programming.
Nopola said she, too, is hopeful that the installation will serve as a reminder that, in the words of Lady Bird Johnson, "Where flowers bloom, so does hope."
"I hope that it just brings a little joy to people, that they see there’s a lot of beauty in this community and a lot of people doing little things selflessly to make people happy," Nopola said. "There’s so much negativity and everybody’s inside and you’re just getting eaten up alive in there. We want to give some hope that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, that there’s beauty in the world."