Guns and gun violence in America has become a public health crisis and from the streets of New Olreans comes a new way of looking at this issue that affects all of America. Through the lens of art, Guns In The Hands of Artists, uses art as the language for dialogue to foster conversation on this critically important issue. Without dialogue how can we find common ground and possibly affect change?
In the 1990s, New Orleans’ murder rate exploded. In 1996, it reached 350: the highest in the city’s history and the highest in the nation. In response to this crisis, artist Brian Borrello and I mounted the first Guns in the Hands of Artists exhibition. Decommissioned guns (taken off the streets via a goods-for-guns swap) were given to over 60 artists to use as raw materials in their art. Painters, glass artists, sculptors, photographers, poets, and other artists turned the decommissioned firearms into art. Each artist used the guns in their medium to express a thought, make a statement, open a discussion—and stimulate thinking about guns and gun violence in our culture.
Gun violence remains an unfortunate fixture in our society. From the kid on the street corner killed by a stray bullet, to mass murders at Columbine, Sandy Hook and Orlando, gun violence continues to wreak havoc across America.
RON BECHET, Why? (Is it Easier to Get a Gun Than an Education, A Gun Instead of Help?)
Eighteen years after the first exhibition, I felt compelled to revisit the exhibition and reopen the dialogue that was started many years ago. By taking guns off the streets and giving them to artists, Guns in the Hands of Artists fosters an important and rare type of conversation about guns in our society: one absent the partisan vitriol that seems to inevitably surround the debate. Guns in the Hands of Artists brings the conversation into the realm of art; art as means for dialogue.
Installation View, Des Lee Gallery, Washington University in St. Louis
In late 2012, I started working with the New Orleans Police Department and the City of New Orleans to acquire 186 firearms to be decommissioned and distributed to over thirty nationally renowned artists. The exhibition opened at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans in October 2014 and over 10,000 people visited the exhibition and experienced these impactful and provocative works of art. The exhibition began touring the country starting at The Aspen Institute in the summer of 2015 for The Aspen Ideas Festival and The Resnick Aspen Action Forum. It then went to Washington University in St. Louis where it was presented by The Institute of Public Health, The Brown School of Social Work and the Sam Fox School of Art and Design. In December 2015, it was presented as a special installation during Art Basel Miami Beach by Miami Project art fair and received widespread media attention there including The Art Newspaper, Artnet News and The Miami Herald.
In May and June of 2016 it traveled to Minneapolis where it is was presented by Pillsbury United Communities at The Pillsbury House Theater and at the Public Functionary Gallery. The exhibition there was integrated into ongoing community outreach programs across the city. A gun buy back to obtain and distribute more decommissioned guns for local artists to utilize in their work was held in August 2016 and will debut in The Twin Cities in the Fall of 2017.
Jonathan Ferrara with Gabby Giffords and Pillsbury United Communities Partners at the opening of Guns In The Hands of Artists at Pillsbury House Theater in Minneapolis
In September/October of 2017, the exhibition was presented in Washington D.C. at the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Building sponsored by Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and at the Headquarters of the New America Foundation just blocks from The White House.
Installation at Rotunda of Russell Senate Building, Washington D.C.
As the exhibition toured the country…we worked with communities to host panel discussions, community outreach programs and facilitate gun buybacks in conjunction with the project. The aim is to plant the seeds of change in each community it travels to so that artists can use guns taken off their streets to comment on the issue in their communities.
The project has already been covered in numerous major media outlets including The Associated Press, Vice Magazine, Al Jazeera America and The Atlantic, MSNBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp as well as many art media outlets such as Sculpture Magazine and Art News.
But even on a national tour, the exhibit will not be seen by enough people. So in order to reach more people, we have published the Guns In The Hands of Artists book that pairs photographs of the artwork with essays on guns and gun violence by nationally known thought leaders: a moderate, sensible conversation on guns and gun violence in our society. There is nothing more personal than reading a book; it is you and the words and images on the page. This book can take this important conversation into classrooms, policy makers offices and the living rooms of America.
The book features essays by Walter Isaacson, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly, Maria Cuomo Cole, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Joe Nocera of The New York Times, Michael Waldman of The Brennan Center For Justice, Author John Barry Lucia McBath mother of Jordan Davis, Rapper Lupe Fiasco, Poet E. Ethelbert Miller, Lolis Eric Elie, International Curator Dan Cameron, Trymaine Lee of The New York Times, United States Senator Tim Kaine, Actor and Comedian Harry Shearer and Author Richard Ford.
The book and project has been featured in media outlets across the country and around the world.
As an exhibition, Guns in the Hands of Artists approached this tension in a thoughtful manner infrequently evidenced in today’s rancorous political debate. As a book, Guns in the Hands of Artists not only brings this art home to those unable to visit the exhibition, but provide essays that expound upon the themes presented in the exhibit and inspires new thinking on this critical issue.
MARCUS KENNEY, Girl with Gun
Every copy of this book that ends up in someone’s house is a reminder that doing better requires all of us caring about this issue. So, to echo those profound words, we must each ask: If not me, who? And if not now, when?
Please help spread the word about this book and this important project!
Luis Cruz Azaceta, Street Sign
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