Artist, epidemiologist team up to create mural inspired by Montreal's COVID-19 data

·2 min read

A new mural outside CEGEP du Vieux Montréal highlights the severity of the first wave of the pandemic in Montreal, using data to visualize how each borough was affected.

It was created over the span of three months by artist Shelley Miller and epidemiologist Joanna Merckx, an affiliate member in the department of epidemiology at McGill University and the director of Medical Affairs bioMérieux.

"It was a very interesting, also challenging, but also very nice experience to team up with an artist," said Merckx.

The mural is a grid explaining the first 50 days of the outbreak in Montreal, broken down into 50 different squares for the boroughs and demerged cities.

"A lot of the work that I do references patchwork and quilting, so the square motif is something that I've worked with a lot," said Miller.

"In the first wave we heard about a lot of boroughs most affected and hardest hit. I wanted to look at the data in a different way to see if there was a way to visualize how each borough compared in terms of population density."

Bringing data to new audiences

Each borough or city was given a different colour and organized alphabetically from the top down. Each square, Miller explained, represents "a rounded figure of two per cent of the cases per thousand based on the population density of the borough."

The mural is part of the CovidArt program sponsored by Récherche Québec. Artists were asked to collaborate with a scientist or researcher to create new public art around the theme of COVID-19.

Merckx joined Miller to help interpret the data. She said art can illustrate COVID-19 numbers in a way spreadsheets never can — and can also bring that data to new audiences.

"What I hope is that we kind of can remember how we lived that first wave, and that we will not forget — but that we also can learn and we can do things better in the second wave."