Bright, lively music swirled around pots of marigolds and dozens of people, all chatting, laughing and celebrating the memories of those they love that couldn’t be there. Over the weekend, these elements helped bring life to Copley Square.
Dia de Muertos — “Day of the Dead” in English — is a Mexican holiday spanning two days that celebrates the memories of loved ones who have died. The ofrenda (altar), is a central part of the holiday, decorated with photos of lost family members and offerings which often include calaveras (sugar skulls), marigolds and favorite foods of the deceased.
Outside of covering the city in murals and artwork, the Mayor’s Mural Crew works on special projects for Boston, including putting together the Dia de Muertos celebration.
Heidi Schork, the director of the Mayor’s Mural Crew, describes the crew as the “art wing” of city workers, which she said gives them a lot of space to move around and a solid base to bring art into the city.
“That’s really important and it makes a huge difference and it expands out in many ways,” Schork said. “Economic benefit, youth involvement benefit, general happiness and well-being, use of green space. You know, solve problems through art. I think all of those things are covered.”
They spent about a month and a half organizing the weekend, Schork said, from concept drawings to growing marigolds to building the pieces used. Schork said she credits her four-person team for getting everything up and running.
“We were all hands on deck every single day, six hours a day, doing the work,” Schork said.
Attendees were encouraged to submit pictures of loved ones via the event page, which were then framed by the Mural Crew with the help of Morgan Memorial and placed on the altar in front of Trinity Church on Copley Place.
Liz O’Brien, the manager of the Mural Crew, took all of the submitted photos and framed them to be placed on the altar.
Two other members, Connor Woods and Jerome Jones, built everything including the altar itself.
Schork said the fact that the event was being hosted by an organization affiliated with the government makes a huge difference in the impact of the event, especially in access to resources for the celebration.
The crew decorated the space in Copley with help from the Lena Park Fab Lab, a community-maker space that houses tools to make 2-D designs tangible. The space provided the papel picado, colorful paper with elaborate designs cut into it, which they cut using a laser cutter in their office and draped around Copley Place.
Greg Buckland, the coordinator for Fab Lab’s Lena Park location, said the technology helps speed up the process drastically.
“I think it’s a really good application for the laser cutter because it’s very time consuming to do that work by hand,” Buckland said. “ I think it’s also an interesting sort of application of modern technology to a traditional craft.”
The celebration included 500 pots of cempasuchil marigolds, also called “flor de muerto,” or “flower of the dead,” whose brightness is thought to attract the souls of the dead and to help guide them to the spirit world.
The two-day celebration included live music performed by a mariachi band led by Veronica Robles, the founder of Boston’s first all women mariachi band traditional, Mexican cuisine and a free screening of “Coco,” an Academy Award winning animated film that takes place in Mexico and centers on the importance of family and remembrance.
Schork said she felt the event had a sense of both Mexican and Boston culture, filling the vast space of Copley Square with energy and excitement.
“I think that you felt on Saturday when the mariachis were playing and it was fun was out and and everybody was there and you were transported,” Schork said. “At least in my opinion, you could be in Mexico.”