As the first anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando approaches, there is a new memorial paying tribute to the massacre’s victims. The 49 Portraits Project was created out of a need to respond in a meaningful, respectful and loving way to the tragic events at the LGBT Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016. The 49 Portraits Project is made up of a group of 49 artists across the country who created portraits to honor the deceased Pulse nightclub victims and to give as gifts to their families.

All 49 portraits will be on view at Orlando City Hall’s Terrace Gallery until June 14. “We’ve had such a great response thus far from the Orlando community, City of Orlando officials and beyond,” said Francesca Ascione, Marketing & Graphic Design Coordinator of The Mennello Museum of American Art & Public Art. “The exhibition is incredibly moving and beautifully installed.”

The project was started by Georgia art professor Mia Merlin, who was inspired by a similar portrait project for the families of the nine victims of the June 2015 shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Merlin shared her impassioned vision for the “49 Portraits Project” in a Facebook prompt. Word quickly spread and artists from all over the country expressed interest in participating. 

“As an artist, the ability to make a portrait for someone is one of the most clear and powerful ways I have to give. I knew that other artists would feel the same way,” Merlin said in a press release. “And the portraits offer that same gift to all viewers, to see more fully and to feel more acutely what a life means. The portraits allow us to see each life shine, to process loss, and maybe over time to start to heal. For the families, I hope that the portraits help them feel connected to their loved ones. But the portraits also allow for the living to connect with each other here and now. This connection has happened between the project artists, between the artists and the families, and with the help of this exhibit, it will extend out into the community and world. These portraits transcend politics, and strip away everything but what is essential. Each of us is so grateful to be able to make this offering, and to have it received by each of you.”

An opening reception for 49 Portraits will be held on Saturday, June 3 from 4:30-6:30 at the Rotunda at Orlando City Hall. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Commissioner Patty Sheehan, District 4 are expected to attend. 

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