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Here’s why there are giant hearts in Union Square

Enlarged hearts benefit hospital

A giant heart sculpture painted with yellow flowers.
Union Square in 2016.
Photo via Shutterstock

Most San Francisco residents recognize the giant heart sculptures that pop up in Union Square, as well as other locations throughout the city, but not everyone knows their significance beyond making for cute Instagram moments for couples and tourists.

As it turns out, those oversized valentines do a lot of good, and on Thursday San Francisco General Hospital announced the creation of dozens of new throbbers, some of which will appear in Union Square from February until October.

Unbeknownst the many, the hearts are part of a broad and elaborate fundraiser for the hospital that started back in 2004, a reference to the classic Tony Bennett song about San Francisco.

This year the program will feature 34 new pieces from 39 artists, 11 of them with hearty enough proportions to warrant potential display in the square.

The majority of the new hearts eventually go up for auction, raising $27 million for hospital services off of more than 350 individual artworks in years past.

When the heart beat first started in 2004, organizers likened it to Chicago’s annual “Cows on Parade” project, featuring (you guessed it) painted cow sculptures. Other cities feature art fundraisers based around themes like horses, moose, fish, and even giant forks.

Compared to all of that the hearts seem quite understated. To see the full lineup of art and artists for this year, follow the link here. The eventual auction will take place both on Ebay and at Oracle Park.