The mission of the Guns in the Hands of Artists (GITHOA) Foundation is to promote community based activist art as a means of opening a dialogue around guns, gun ideology, and gun violence in contemporary American society. The Foundation works with various community, social, arts and governmental agencies including police departments, using art as a catalyst for open ended conversation and discourse about guns and gun violence. The Foundation works with individual communities, organizations and local entities to bring the Guns in the Hands of Artists exhibition to the community and organize discussion forums, panels and community outreach on this issue. Most importantly though, the GITHOA Foundation works with communities to create their own blueprint of how to start a similar project in their own backyards, expanding a movement of art made from guns taken off the streets. By taking guns off the streets and channeling them to artists to use in their art, The GITHOA Foundation encourages a new way of conversing about guns in our society without the fever pitched politics that often surround the contentious issue. Every community has unique experiences and issues surrounding guns and gun violence and this allows them to address those through art; working to expand the network of communities and artists critically engaged to create a lasting legacy of possible change and greater awareness of the issues that face each community and our nation.
The Guns in the hands of Artists Foundation stems from an ongoing arts project begun in 1996 by Gallery Owner Jonathan Ferrara and artist Brian Borrello.
As an outgrowth of this highly successful, nationally recognized project, the Guns in the Hands of Artists Foundation seeks to broaden the scope of the initial project by creating a nationwide network of art and discourse about guns. The original Guns in the Hands of Artists project worked with community leaders to buy back decommissioned guns, taken off the streets of New Orleans. These guns were then distributed to over thirty local and internationally recognized artists who used the guns to create socially relevant artworks that addressed the issue of guns and gun violence in America. The works were then brought together in a formal exhibition, that is currently traveling the country, symposia, and 220 page book featuring the art and essays by national thought leaders on this critical issue.
In the mid 1990’s, New Orleans’ murder rate exploded reaching 350, the highest in the nation and the city’s history. In response to this crisis, artist Brian Borrello conceived of the first Guns In The Hands of Artists exhibition to create a conversation about guns in our society by bringing the discussion into the realm of art; without the often partisan and polarized politics that surround the issue.
Art as the language for dialogue… Decommissioned guns taken off the streets were disseminated to artists to use as the raw materials in their art. Painters, glass artists, sculptors, photographers, poets, and other artists used the decommissioned firearms to make works of art. Each artist used the guns in their medium to express a thought, make a statement, open a discussion and stimulate thinking about guns in our culture. Gallery owner Jonathan Ferrara and Borrello mounted this exhibition at Positive Space The Gallery in September 1996 in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg wrote an in depth feature article for The New York Times; Time Magazine covered the show and ABC’s Good Morning America flew to New Orleans to interview the artists, the producers and to film the artwork for a segment on
national TV. Numerous other local and regional print, television and other media covered the exhibition and over two thousand people visited the show during its one month run.
This pivotal exhibition started a national dialogue within the arts. With the backdrop of New Orleans and its skyhigh murder rate, artists responded to the crisis and the country took note. Since 1996, Guns in the Hands of Artists was activated in galleries, art centers, and gun trade shows in Washington DC and Portland, OR, and the project has inspired similar efforts in other cities nationwide.
Over the past 18 years, gun violence has continued to be a major issue that affects the very fabric of American culture. Guns permeate the American landscape. From Sandy Hook to Central City, deadly violence is a daily occurrence in our society. From the kid on the street corner killed by a stray bullet to the mass murders at Columbine, guns and the people that use them are wreaking havoc on America. With the recent mass shootings of the past years and the still-high murder rate in New Orleans, artist/ gallery owner Jonathan Ferrara, the producer of the original Guns in The Hands of Artists project, has been compelled to revisit the exhibition and reopen the dialogue that was started many years ago. As an artist, activist and social entrepreneur, Ferrara asked, ‘What can I do to address this issue that pervades our society?’ said Jonathan Ferrara. Putting together this exhibition is my way of doing something. It’s my goal to use art and the creative process to facilitate new, frank dialogue about gun violence and guns in our society.
By taking guns off the streets and channeling them to artists to use in their art, Guns In The Hands of Artists is a way of having a conversation about guns in our society without the often partisan and fever pitched politics around the issue. Artists will transform these once deadly weapons into works of art. Art can comment, very poignantly, about a subject and make people think in a totally different way. In the 19th century, artists would paint the objects that would inhabit their immediate world, a bowl of fruit, or a glass on the night table… today
that object on the bedside table may likely to be gun. In early 2013, Ferrara partnered with the New Orleans Police Department, the City Council and the Mayor’s office to secure 186 handguns and long-barreled guns, taken off the streets by the NOPD’s gun buyback program. Ferrara then invited (and challenged) over thirty nationally recognized artists from various geographies and backgrounds working in mediums such as painting, sculpture, video, installation, technology and photography to use the decommissioned firearms as the raw materials in their art. The resulting artworks will be exhibited at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery from October 3, 2014 through January 25, 2015 to coincide with Prospect.3: Notes for Now, New Orleans Biennial, the largest biennial of contemporary art in the US. In the summer of 2015 the Guns in the Hands of Artists exhibition traveled to the Aspen Institute where it was presented at the Aspen Ideas Festival and the Aspen Actin Forum. In the fall of 2015 the exhibition travelled to Washington University, in St. Louis, MO, where it was presented by the Institute for Public Health, the Brown School of Social Work, and the Sam Fox School of Arts and Design, in conjunction with the University’s year-long initiative on gun violence. In December of 2015 a special presentation of Guns in the Hands of Artists took place during Art Basel Miami Beach at Miami Project in the Deauville Beach Resort.