Interview with the Soul Box Project: Using Art to fight the Gun Epidemic

with questions from Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Centrist Review Rainier Harris

Follow Soul Box Project on Instagram @soulboxproject and you can see their website by clicking here.

I. When, where, and why did you choose to start Soul Box?

On Oct. 2 when I read that there had been another mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas, I turned away from the story, unable to take in more bad news. Later that day I learned that 59 people had died, 422 had been injured by the bullets raining down on the crowd, and 399 had been injured by the panic that ensued. I was appalled not only at the massacre, but my willingness to not look at it — for my own comfort. I knew I was not the only one doing this and that our country was in deep denial about a very serious gunfire epidemic killing over 100 people every day. As an artist I felt the missing piece of the decades-long conversation about gun deaths and injuries was a VISUAL – a way for us to SEE the numbers in a visceral way that would reach us on an emotional level and compel us to take action. I decided to ask the entire country to make small origami boxes to hold space for each victim. When we had tens of thousands of them we would exhibit them in public places and appeal to the hearts and minds of every person experiencing that visual representation of lives lost or torn apart by gunfire.

2. Why boxes?

Because we are talking such huge numbers – 661,712 from 2014 to 2018. I knew the objects for the “counting” needed to be quite small. They also needed to be lightweight for shipping and be something anyone, of any age or skill level could make. I felt a small origami box was a good canvas for expression, a place where people could honor specific lives lost with a name or photo or express messages of love, hope, anger, frustration. It was a short jump from the box idea to The Soul Box Project.

3. What do you think are some practical solutions to the Gunfire Epidemic?

I believe the solutions are within every individual. While it is statistically proven that gun regulations reduce gunfire incidents, gun control will not affect the 400 million Americans who currently have guns stashed in their garages and closets, under beds and car seats, in handbags and backpacks. Gun violence gets our attention but there are also all the losses from defense, accidents and suicides. Sixty percent of US gun deaths are suicides, usually with an unsecured gun within the family home. People need to understand the risks of firearms and choose to be responsible. SEEing the number of deaths and having an emotional, visceral response can be the wake-up call that will cause people to reach that “ah-ha” moment of personal action when they DO lock their guns, or talk to their kids about anger management, or ask their gun club to add another safety class. Emotions rule where laws and statistics cannot.

4. How do you see yourself growing in the foreseeable future? What are some upcoming projects?

As of June 2019 we have collected over 51,000 Soul Boxes made by people all over the country, from every walk of life and political spectrum, who care about the number of people being shot. They feel empowered when they add their small actions to thousands of others – creating exhibits too massive to ignore. Folding Soul Boxes, alone or with groups, is also a healing activity offering solace to all affected – families, communities, cities, states: the entire U.S. population. Making Boxes is a beautiful, even enjoyable, way to have a voice in a very distressing issue.

Because the Project started in Portland, Oregon this is where the majority of support and action is happening, but our intention is to exhibit Soul Boxes across the nation – reaching out with a dramatic visual to provide that missing piece of the conversation about the gunfire epidemic. We welcome inquiries from anyone who wants to contribute Boxes and any venue that would like to host an exhibit. As an example, a church in the center of Denver, Colorado is working with us on a 10-month build-up of community participation and an exhibit that will coincide with the anniversaries of the shootings at Columbine and Highlands Park.

There are also many ways to participate that are less complex. Our website is full of information and ideas and we respond to all inquiries.

We are currently making plans to exhibit 200,000 Soul Boxes on the National Mall in the fall of 2020. This will not only take a lot of Box-making but also a lot of funding. Donations and ideas for financial supporters are always welcome.

5. How does your organization hope to inspire change in the fight to end gun violence?

If it seems far-fetched that thousands of origami Soul Boxes can change our nation’s current gun culture, I invite skeptics to revisit the success of the Names Project: AIDS Memorial Quilt. Thousands of people were dying of AIDS in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. It took activists creating the AIDS Quilt and touring it around the country, including exhibiting it 3 times on the National Mall in D.C., for an emotional response to result in action. When the visual of the Quilt made the deaths impossible to ignore, research began to be funded, treatments were found, education was implemented and, in 1993, a new federal administration was voted in. The result was a dramatic drop in the deaths from AIDS even though the HIV virus, which is a potential for AIDS, continues to rise. The number of guns in the US is a similar potential for gun deaths and injuries but, with enough awareness from an emotional response to creative visuals like The Soul Box Project, individual decisions will make the number of victims go down.

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