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Biden inauguration is largely virtual—but some live art is planned

A public art installation of 200,000 flags opens on the National Mall, as coronavirus and heightened security forces most events online

State flags are placed on the National Mall in Washington, DC, ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris Photo: AP/Alex Brandon

An installation of nearly 200,000 flags and 56 pillars of light—representing every US state and territory—opened on the National Mall on Monday night ahead of President-Elect Joseph Biden Jr’s inauguration on 20 January. The "Field of Flags" takes the space normally filled by the public, who will be unable to attend the event in person due to the coronavirus pandemic and the heightened security in Washington, DC following the deadly attack by Trump-supporting rioters at the Capitol earlier this month.

Biden’s inauguration, organised under the theme of “America United” to mark “the beginning of a new national journey that restores the soul of America, brings the country together, and creates a path to a brighter future” according to the committee website, is a largely virtual affair, with online programming that started early on Saturday. This included a project to create a massive crowd-sourced kolam tile installation, led by the artist Shanthi Chandrasekar. The traditional Indian art form, honouring Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’s maternal heritage, is meant to usher in prosperity to Hindu homes. The 2,500sq ft work was originally planned to be installed in front of the US Capitol, but following the violent insurrection at the site, this has been postponed until after Inauguration Day.

On Tuesday, the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial will be lit as a memorial to the more than 400,000 lives lost in the US from Covid-19. Communities across the country are also invited to illuminate buildings and ring church bells at 5:30 pm in a national moment of unity and remembrance.

Some live performances are planned for Wednesday when Biden will swear the oath of office, although a relatively small number of invited guests will attend in person, include Vice President Mike Pence and his wife. (Outgoing President Donald Trump has said he will skip the event, which Biden has said is a “good thing”.) The National Anthem will be sung by Lady Gaga, and there will be a poetry reading by 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the nation’s first youth poet laureate, and a musical set by Jennifer Lopez. Afterwards, Biden, joined by former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The new president will then be escorted to the White House by an honour guard that includes military bands and drum lines from the University of Delaware Drumline and Howard University—the alma maters of Biden and Harris respectively—kicking off a digital “Parade Across America” to be streamed online. A prime time programme called “Celebrating America”, hosted by the actor Tom Hanks, will air on US television Wednesday night.