ORLANDO, Fla. – The feeling that washed over the Orlando community on the morning of June 12, 2016, left people wondering: How do you explain the unexplainable?
How does a person put into words the fear, the anger, the heartbreak, the helplessness, the overwhelming evil that Orlando faced that morning?
Sometimes, words are just not there.
Sam Flax, the owner of Sam Flax Orlando art supply shop, understood that after the unspeakable tragedy, people may need help finding their voices, so he came up with an idea.
Flax launched “Paint Strong Orlando,” a program that allowed people in the Orlando community to send an application to his art shop to express interest in creating an art piece in honor of the Pulse tragedy.
Flax made it clear that those who applied did not have to be artists. He had no idea how many applications he would get, but knew that for each one, he would send the applicants free art supplies for what they wished to create.
Flax received over 300 applications, and almost 300 pieces of art.
The art shop owner originally told the artists that their pieces would be put up for public auction, and the proceeds would go to the OneOrlando fund to help victims of the Pulse shooting.
What Flax found, however, is that the artwork meant much more to people than money.
The “Paint Strong Orlando” collection was never auctioned, but instead had pieces travel to different locations throughout the community that needed the healing power of artwork. Pieces of the collection have been displayed at City Hall, Orlando Health, the Orlando Public Library and even the NFL Pro Bowl. When the new Orlando Police Department opened this year, several pieces from the collection hung on its walls.
New Gallery 2017/5/9cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 29exposuretime 0.02width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 12:03:19 AMfnumber 4.5cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6icameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 29exposuretime 0.025width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 12:22:30 AMfnumber 4.5cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6icameramake Canonfocallength 29height 4000fnumber 4exposuretime 0.025orientation 1flash 16originaldate 2/2/2016 11:19:56 PMwidth 6000cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6icameramake Canonorientation 6height 6000focallength 29exposuretime 0.02width 4000originaldate 2/3/2016 12:08:46 AMfnumber 4.5cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6icameramake Canonfocallength 29height 4000fnumber 4exposuretime 0.025orientation 1flash 9originaldate 2/3/2016 12:07:12 AMwidth 6000cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6i
On June 12, 2017, Orlando United Day, the “Paint Strong Orlando” collection will be brought back together to stand in unity at the nightclub.
After the initial pieces from local artists flooded in, the city began to see more permanent memorials to those lost at Pulse through murals and flashes of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple on iconic city structures.
The mural outside of iFixYouri on Mills is arguably the most recognizable mural in Orlando. City Commissioner Patty Sheehan contacted artist Andrew Spear about creating a mural for the space, which had been frequently vandalized.
The mural originally was going to be a rhino, but after 49 birds flew over the vigil at the Dr. Phillip’s Center on the day after the shooting, the two were inspired and changed their minds. The mural shows 49 birds, in rainbow colors, with the message “You Mattered” over them.
Perhaps the most meaningful mural in the district stands on the right wall of The Center. Commissioner Sheehan said this wall, spray-painted and vandalized several times over the years with hateful words targeting the LGBT community, now is home to a beautiful mural that honors the victims lost at Pulse.
In the middle stands a rainbow circle, the symbol for The Center, which pays tribute to the many victims; who walked through their doors. Inside, is an arm symbolizing strength with the Pulse logo on it. Outside, angel wings surround the circle with the date that Orlando will never forget. The logo #OrlandoStrong stretches across the bottom.
Einsteins Bros. Bagels directly across from Pulse served as a safe place and a rescue area on the night of the shooting. Several people were put into trucks there and driven to the hospital, and many ran across the street to find safety and seek help for the people in need.
Michael Owen, the creator of the Baltimore Love Project, wanted to have a mural near the site of the tragedy. Owen has created 20 other murals around the country with the same "L-O-V-E" hand design. Unlike his other love murals, however, Owen added 49 orange blossoms to his Orlando mural in honor of the 49 victims who were lost that night.
An iconic Orlando structure has also found a way to honor the victims of Pulse.
The band shell at Lake Eola, which was once all green, was transformed to rainbow colors this year, the week of Orlando Come Out With Pride. The idea was brought up by a local woman, who lost her child to suicide and was touched by the tragedy at Pulse.
She presented the design to city council, but officials quickly realized that the transformation would cost the city almost $50,000. The council reached out to Disney, which owns the bandshell, for help. The company paid for the Orlando iconic to be transformed, just in time for the Orlando pride parade.
The pieces are just four examples of art that honors the victims of Pulse, but if you drive down the streets of downtown Orlando, you will find odes to Pulse all around you. Several walls, businesses, even electrical boxes on street corners have found ways to artistically remember the morning of June 12, 2016.
New Gallery 2017/5/8Ash Restaurant This rainbow heart reading "You Matter" is one of the many murals honoring Pulse in the Mills 50 district. cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 18exposuretime 0.005width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 4:53:25 AMfnumber 8cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iPho Hoa of OrlandoThis picture, that sits outside Pho Hoa, also is displayed on the fence that surrounds Pulse nightclub.cameramake Canonfocallength 31height 4000fnumber 10exposuretime 0.004orientation 1flash 16originaldate 2/3/2016 2:49:34 AMwidth 6000cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iPho Hoa of OrlandoThis #OrlandoStrong mural covers most of the wall out of Pho Hoa, which was frequently vandalized beforehand. cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 18exposuretime 0.005width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 3:52:40 AMfnumber 8cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iPho Hoa of OrlandoThis mural highlights the #KeepDancingOrlando movement that went viral after the Pulse nightclub shooting.cameramake Canonfocallength 38height 4000fnumber 7.1exposuretime 0.005orientation 1flash 9originaldate 2/3/2016 3:54:05 AMwidth 6000cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iOrlando HealthOutside of the hospital where victims were transported after the attack stands 49 bricks with each person who was lost's name carved inside. cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 27exposuretime 0.005width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 6:18:22 AMfnumber 9cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iOrlando HealthThe Pulse memorial garden holds 49 bricks with each Pulse victim's name engraved. cameramake Canonfocallength 18height 4000fnumber 6.3exposuretime 0.005orientation 1flash 9originaldate 2/3/2016 6:12:22 AMwidth 6000cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iZebra CoalitionThis mural, that sits outside the Zebra Coalition (an organization for LGBT youth), holds a rainbow flag upside down, to symbolize tragedy, and left 49 handprints to honor those lost.cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 18exposuretime 0.004width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 4:55:36 AMfnumber 10cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iMills 50 DistrcitThis mural, that sits outside the new Tako Cheena location in the Mills 50 district, was also painted by the Zebra Coalition. cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 18exposuretime 0.008width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 4:51:14 AMfnumber 7.1cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iMills 50 DistrictThis mural, that sits outside the new Tako Cheena location in the Mills 50 district, was also painted by the Zebra Coalition. cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 18exposuretime 0.00625width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 4:51:02 AMfnumber 7.1cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iThe Center OrlandoThis wall, which was once vandalized outside with hateful words outside The Center, now holds a beautiful memorial. cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 18exposuretime 0.008width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 4:49:27 AMfnumber 6.3cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iEinstein Bros. BagelsThis mural, painted by the Baltimore Love Project, sits directly across from Pulse. The 49 orange blossoms were added to honor the victims.cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 18exposuretime 0.005width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 4:21:05 AMfnumber 8cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iPho Hoa of OrlandoThis #OrlandoStrong mural stretches the majority of the wall outside of Pho Hoa, a place that had been frequently vandalized. cameramake Canonfocallength 31height 4000fnumber 8exposuretime 0.005orientation 1flash 9originaldate 2/3/2016 2:51:05 AMwidth 6000cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iSportstown BilliardsThese cornhole tables are just a small example of the artwork honoring Pulse that lies within local businesses and restaurants around Orlando. cameramake Canonfocallength 31height 4000fnumber 6.3exposuretime 0.01orientation 1flash 16originaldate 2/3/2016 2:39:14 AMwidth 6000cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iMilk DistrictThis mural stands almost as a billboard in downtown's Milk District. Beneath the inspiring quote about conquering hate is written "Orlando United." cameramake Canonfocallength 31height 4000fnumber 9exposuretime 0.005orientation 1flash 16originaldate 2/3/2016 2:37:29 AMwidth 6000cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iLake Eola ParkThe band shell is one of Orlando's most iconic structures, and has since been painted rainbow in honor of Pulse and the victims lost there. cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 28exposuretime 0.003125width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 2:10:05 AMfnumber 11cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iiFixYouri"You Mattered" mural painted by Andrew Spear was originally supposed to be a rhino, but after 49 birds flew over the Pulse vigil held at Doctor Phillip's comissioner Sheehan asked him to paint birds instead.cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 18exposuretime 0.003125width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 5:14:46 AMfnumber 11cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6iPho Hoa of OrlandoOn the telephone pole above the post at Pho Hoa sits 4 bird houses. Eventually there will be 49 bird houses added to the poll, in honor of the victims and a tribute to the birds that flew overhead during the Pulse memorial. cameramake Canonorientation 1height 4000focallength 41exposuretime 0.004width 6000originaldate 2/3/2016 3:53:44 AMfnumber 9cameramodel Canon EOS Rebel T6i
The tragedy at Pulse devastated the community, but with each sketch of a pencil or stroke of a brush, Orlando began to heal. The pieces of art not only honor the people whom the city lost, but serve as a colorful reminder that love will always conquer hate. The pieces will stand with Orlando, as will the memory of the 49 lost, forever.