Milford woman creates public art campaign to spread gun violence prevention message

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MILFORD — Lorie Lewis watched the aftermath of the Uvalde, Texas mass shooting unfold in real time last May.

Nineteen students and two teachers were killed that day in a school.

For the Milford resident, that was her call to action.

“It was just a cumulative effect…seeing one after the other,” Lewis said. “I was at my breaking point, and with kids…it was even more devastating.”

Lewis, director of marketing and communications at the Fairfield County Cultural Alliance, turned to her arts background to create Wings4Peace, a national arts movement that she says is designed to “end gun violence and inspire peace.

“The arts are incredibly powerful… they meet us at the place of our common humanity,” said Lewis, who was formerly at the Milford Arts Council. “They inspire us, challenge us, connect us, heal us and above all they can inspire us to action.”

Wings4Peace is an open invitation to all – artists and non-artists – to participate in an ongoing national art project. People are invited to create multiple pieces of wing-themed public art and share each piece on the 24th of every month through October.

“My life song has always been about unity and community,” Lewis added. “This project was inspired from the start. It’s been a lifetime to come. It was just the perfect time to match the division and violence in our country with beauty, peace and community.

The project has two main components: a piece of public art that will evolve over the course of four months, and an integrated gun violence message that is revealed one word at a time each month from July through October.

The initiative started June 24, with wings indicating “Peace”. On August 24, a second set will be added to the first, this one reading “In America”. There will be two more words or phrases and sets of wings to follow with the full message revealed just before the midterm elections.

Lewis said after the Uvalde shooting she had what she could only call a breakdown.

“On the other hand, I had a sense of peace that washed over me and I felt inspired…it had been brewing for a long time. I always knew that the arts could and should be at the heart of cultural solutions and societal – a catalyst for change,” she said.

Lewis then took to Twitter and reached out to David Hogg, a student survivor of the Parkland school shooting and gun control activist.

“I didn’t think he would respond, but he did and affirmed my belief that art was needed to raise awareness of the gun violence crisis. It was time to act,” Lewis said.

Hogg connected Lewis with California resident and Artists for Peace founder Gracie Pekrul, another gun control activist using art to bring attention to the issue. Lewis then visited Paige Miglio, longtime friend and executive director of the MAC, to think about what the artistic initiative would look like.

“Paige mentioned the use of wings as a call-to-art theme,” Lewis said. “It’s a great visual symbol, of freedom, of security, of a new direction. I loved the idea and decided we needed to add a message alongside, a message that we could get to help this get across the country.

Miglio said her thoughts turn to children and how people should value children above all else. Decisions must be made to “let them fly”, she said.

“Wings are great vehicles…they speak to lost souls and to the potential of children. You have to let them soar,” added Miglio.

Lewis said she then pitched the project to Pekrul, who immediately fell in love with the concept.

“We decided to make this a collaborative effort between Wings4Peace and Artists for Peace,” Pekrul said. “People across the country, myself included, displayed their own unique rendering of the wings in cities around the world.

“It’s amazing to see creators championing a common message in so many beautiful ways,” Pekrul added. “Through Wings4Peace, parents, children, teachers, students, artists and non-artists are coming together to demand a safer future. As we approach the halfway point, we believe it is important to keep this issue front and center, and we hope to inspire others to take action at the polls and beyond.

Lewis said the initial interest was not only surprising but inspiring. A total of 15 states are represented.

The initiative has since caught the attention of Darcy Hicks, Westport resident, artist, teacher, local activist and community organizer in Westport.

“Throughout history, it is artists who emotionally engage the consciousness of society,” Hicks said. “Art in all its forms – from Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ to Childish Gambino’s music video ‘This is America’ – has worked to engage us, and engagement leads to action.”

Hicks praised Wings4Peace’s goal of bringing more light to the conversation about gun violence.

“It levels the playing field because anyone can join,” said Hicks, who has a Facebook page called DefenDemocracy of CT, which she says is a landing page for calls to action. “We hope these wings, which are already growing across the country, will spur action, speech and, most importantly, voting on November 8 for leaders advocating for gun violence prevention.”

Pekrul said she was called into activism at age 16 after the Parkland tragedy.

“I decided to draw portraits of the 17 victims and bring them as signs of protest to the first March for our lives,” she said. “This experience changed my life and showed me the power of art as a mechanism for social change, and since then I have dedicated myself to gun violence prevention.”

Pekrul said she communicates through art, which fuels Lewis’s initiative.

“Visual storytelling has a power unlike anything else, and I believe it’s one of the most effective tools for informing, empowering, and inspiring others,” Pekrul said. “The Uvalde shooting gutted me and in response I formed Artists for Peace with David Hogg, an artists collective against gun violence.

“Our mission is to bring creatives together to amplify each other’s work and collaborate on peace-building projects that generate conversation about gun safety,” Pekrul added.

Pekrul and Lewis hope this is just phase 1 of a three-phase collaborative plan. The goal of this phase is to build a unified coalition of pro-peace creatives through the national flash mob art project. Phase 2 is about getting people to vote for pro-peace candidates through national arts festivals on a specific day, and phase 3 will focus on fundraising for pro-peace organizations through a online art auction.

“I have no idea where this is going,” Lewis said. “I’m so glad we started it so we can bring people together and raise awareness about the gun violence crisis. Now it’s all about letting go, letting it unfold and watching it fly. Building unity through collective creative energy is at the heart of it all. It’s something that tends to take on a life of its own. Just like art.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com

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