#UNLOAD is an arts-based initiative that seeks to reduce the amount of gun violence in our country. Too many men, women, and children are killed or grievously wounded by firearms. Mass shootings occur with frightening regularity. Suicides are on the rise. Children with access to unsecured weapons accidentally shoot family members. A nation divided, we mistrust one another, hold divergent beliefs about how to interpret the Second Amendment, and disagree fundamentally about the root causes of gun violence. The politics around this issue are now so toxic and polarized that finding a solution seems impossible. And yet every American wants to reduce unnecessary harm caused by guns. We need to adopt a new approach.
#UNLOAD turns to the arts to grow the community of people committed to reducing gun violence in this country. We believe in the power of the arts– visual arts such as painting, sculpture, photography, and installation as well as performing arts including theater, film, dance and spoken word– to bring diverse people together for conversations that that lead to better understanding and drive consensus. Today the political realm seems unable to generate lasting solutions but thankfully in our visual, viral world, the arts are primed to assume that role. To see Bill Hudson’s iconic photo “Police Dog Attack, Birmingham, Alabama,” or experience Lin Manuel Miranda’s play, “Hamilton,” is to know the power of art to startle our emotions, persuade us to embrace a paradigm shift in our thinking, inspire us to unite in common purpose. This is the transformative power that we will harness to bring about lasting change. #UNLOAD has chosen Connecticut to initiate this effort because of the state’s long and complex history with guns. Connecticut has been a hub of weapons and ammunition production, once even called the “arsenal of democracy”. Gun manufacturing companies such as Colt’s Manufacturing, Remington Arms, and Sturm, Ruger & Co. have thrived here. Connecticut is also the state where the unimaginable mass murder of 20 first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School took place. And sadly, like most other states, Connecticut confronts the constant, growing scourges of urban gun violence and suicide. A microcosm of American gun culture, it is here in Connecticut that we choose to develop a replicable blueprint for action that can be exported to other states.
#UNLOAD’s mission is to use the arts to encourage more Americans to join the effort to reduce gun violence. We harness the power of the arts to drive inclusive conversations that will empower people to speak up, especially those who have been on the sidelines: students, physicians, responsible gun owners, and veterans. We believe that there is strong national consensus about how to reduce gun violence, we just need to catalyze this new, broad coalition of citizens. As Co-Founder and Executive Director, Mary Himes, says, “ Our hope is that by bringing the conversation into the realm of the arts, we are providing a welcoming space, less for judgement than for listening, questioning, and understanding. This all-embracing dialogue will help grow the community of people who will demand common sense solutions to gun violence.”
EDUCATION – ADULT
#UNLOAD’s arts events- visual arts such as painting, sculpture, photography, and installation as well as performing arts including theater, film, dance and spoken word- provide learners with opportunities to explore ideas about gun use, ownership and culture. Our related panel discussions have focused on topics such as gun violence as a public health issue, the role of artists making social change, and the frontline perspectives of ER doctors. We purposefully bring together experts who represent different points of view such as doctors, victims, politicians, religious leaders, artists, gun owners and gun safety advocates to further our goal of helping people understand those with whom they disagree. This is the key component to building consensus and developing a new, broad coalition of people who will demand change.
EDUCATION – YOUTH
#UNLOAD also recognizes the importance of specifically engaging youth in this effort to reduce gun violence. In 2018 we piloted an art workshop for teens at Neighborhood Studios in Bridgeport, CT that helps the students explore and express their feelings, develop their own message, and become powerful advocates for change. All of the students have grown up with school lockdown drills; many of them are filled with generalized anxiety; some live in constant fear of being shot. Learning how to look at and create artworks that expresses their views empowers these young adults. As Maxine Greene, Columbia University Philosopher and Educator said, “The arts….cannot change the world, but they may change human beings who might change the world.”