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A gun violence awareness campaign has raised questions about its purpose and tone in lieu of an immediate welcome, though not everyone has responded critically.
During the morning hours of March 16th, child-sized crew neck t-shirts were hung from twine and wound between two trees near the Jean Yawkey Center. The display was vacant of any further explanation to its meaning. Early speculation included talk that the shirts, gusting in strong wind, were promotion for a domestic abuse campaign or related to the upcoming Dance Marathon.
The display has been renewed throughout the week in complete secrecy. In an exclusive, anonymous e-mail sent to Hub staff, those responsible for the campaign explained their position.
“We are raising awareness for an issue that we as a society have become normalized to,” they wrote. After the project’s curious debut, the t-shirts were “accented” with bold, red paint like blood, according to the artists.
“I think it definitely drew interest,” said Tyler Gravelle 16′ over Facebook. “Everyone was wondering about the white T-shirts, and then when the blood was added it definitely shocked and confused some people,” he said.
Gravelle offered eager praise for the work, saying “I personally haven’t looked into the issue they’re advertising, but I think this kind of powerful display is completely appropriate. Awareness is half the battle for causes like this, and they definitely hit the mark, from a PR perspective.”
“We are appealing to gun violence on a national level,” replied the anonymous artists in a following e-mail. “One in three Americans know someone who has been shot, and according to an article by the Washington Post, there is about 308 shootings everyday on average (sic).” The Washington Post determined that average using data from The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which collected reports of nonfatal and fatal injuries caused by guns from 2001-2013.
In further correspondence with the artists, they said, “it is incredible how normalized our society has become to gun violence, to the point where it barely phases us when shootings occur.” A fatal shooting on Friday night in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood almost took the life of a decorated policeman, who was shot beneath his eye during a traffic stop. He is reportedly improving and was commended by President Obama as he dedicated the newly completed Edward M. Kennedy Institute on Columbia Point.
“We’re pushing our community to recognize gun violence in our country, think about it, and form an opinion,” said the artists.
When asked about their motivations, the artists said one of them knows a person who has been shot. The group was not inspired to demonstrate only by that singular event. Their power to inform and alarm, according to the artists, was deliberate and benevolent.
“The t-shirts were intentionally presented first as ambiguous imagery,” they said. “We wanted, and needed, to catch people’s attention, which we did. However, we are not sorry for any upset feelings they caused.”
They said timing was the biggest role in any purported association with Dance Marathon and efforts #FTK. “We had that start date planned for a while with no connection to Dance Marathon in mind,” they said. The artists wanted to acknowledge that the shirts were taken down in respect of Dance Marathon before it began. “How long can we stand by and shrug off the horrific events taking place in our country?” they asked.
Kevin Farrell, Advisor of Emmanuel College’s Dance Marathon, declined to comment.
Recently, the project has been impacted by inclement weather. On March 26th, rain and wind is suspected of tearing down a banner that said, “My heart just kind of stopped. I can still hear the footsteps in my head. Everything went quiet for me.” The quote is attributable to a man named Pierce O’Farrill, who survived the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting in 2012.
Now in its third week, the gun violence initiative is curated online by the artists. A minimalist blog called EC Stop Gun Violence includes photos of each display with anticipation of what’s next. Further work surrounding the project will continue there; faculty and the Emmanuel student body are encouraged to visit.
“We will add commentary, reasoning, and details about our selection and the process once the installation has concluded,” they said.
On Tuesday, The Boston Globe reported that an iconic handgun violence billboard along the Mass Pike would be retired. The group which sponsors the large, twenty year old digital sign will replace it with coverage statewide on donated billboard space.