The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival ended this month, but its new community-wide visual arts exhibition is sticking around through at least Memorial Day.

Organizers created the “Art in Bloom” exhibit — 26 oversized cherry blossom sculptures painted by local and national artists — to give visitors the opportunity for an in-person festival experience despite access to the trees being restricted this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sculptures have been placed in locations around Washington, Maryland and Virginia. Some sites hope to keep the sculptures permanently displayed.

About 130 artists responded to the festival’s call for applications in January, and 25 were selected after submitting their design ideas. The artists were invited to work on their sculpture in a Washington studio. Fiberglass sculptures were provided as a canvas.

One of the selected artists, Sandra Pérez-Ramos of Silver Spring, said her sculpture “Celebration” focuses on the transition to spring and new beginnings.

“We needed a dose of joy and hope after this last winter and after a COVID-19 pandemic year,” Pérez-Ramos, 45, told Capital News Service.

“Celebration” has a variety of colors and shapes, such as hearts, dots and spirals. The colors used have a spring theme, such as blue, green, yellow and pink.

She said she made the base of the sculpture bright white and worked around the sculpture’s organic shape. “A lot of those elements that I used in my work — spirals, dots, little lines and hearts — are playing with the shape of the flower, like sort of enhancing and making it look expanded,” Pérez-Ramos said.

Since the festival had to follow pandemic safety protocols, the artists were divided into two groups, and each group had a week in the provided studio to complete their sculpture. Pérez-Ramos said she completed her work in about 35 hours.

Another artist, Steve Rands of Mechanicsville, chose to work in his own shop, and spent two weeks completing his piece.

Rands, 45, didn’t use one of the provided fiberglass sculptures, instead making his own from metal.

Rands’ sculpture, “MXY-7,” is unpainted and shaded darker than most other sculptures, especially where Rands used a torch.

“MXY-7” got its name from a Japanese kamikaze plane that means cherry blossom.

“A lot of the other work I’ve done has kind of had a military aviation theme because I’m a retired military pilot,” Rands said. “When I was looking for a name for it I wanted something with kind of a blossom or flower name in it.”

Organizers knew they needed to expand the festival’s footprint this year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the festival online in 2020.

“As soon as this festival was over last year, we knew that we needed to plan several scenarios,” said Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. “We planned three different scenarios, we had no idea what was going to happen.”

Part of the finalized plan included the “Art in Bloom” exhibit, which is an effort to still give visitors a physical cherry blossom experience, while avoiding crowds and following COVID-19 safety guidelines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding large gatherings, especially those where it’s impossible to maintain a six-foot distance from others.

The National Park Service limited vehicular and pedestrian access to the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park and West Potomac Park during the peak bloom period of the cherry blossoms, according to the National Park Service’s website.

“Working with the Park Service, the best thing to do was restrict that visitation to the trees,” Mayhew said. “We couldn’t have hundreds of thousands of people coming, it wouldn’t be the right timing to have that happen.”

The art exhibit allows people to filter in and out of Washington and surrounding areas, as opposed to hundreds or thousands of people trying to look at the trees in the same area at the same time.

Get out and see the sculptures while you can, because they might not be there next year.

“I don’t think we’ll do the art sculpture every year,” Mayhew said. “It’s a very costly program, but we will bring it back in a few years for sure.”

The festival is selecting one photo entry per week now until May 31 to win a $25 Amazon gift card. If you follow @cherryblossfest on Instagram or Twitter, upload your original photo of a sculpture with a caption, hashtag #ArtInBloom and tag @cherryblossfest, you could be selected.

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