National Building Museum Presents the Gun Violence Memorial Project

Gun Violence Memorial Project, National Building Museum. Credit: National Building Museum/Elman Studio.
On view: April 2021 – September 2022

Nearly 40,000 Americans are killed by gun violence every year, and the economic woes created by the COVID-19 pandemic are intensifying this ongoing tragedy. To commemorate this staggering crisis, honor the lives of those taken, and raise awareness to help end the gun violence epidemic, the National Building Museum presents the Washington DC, debut of the Gun Violence Memorial Project on April 9, 2021, in conjunction with the Museum’s reopening after an extended closure.

The memorial is a tribute to the thousands of lives taken by gun violence in the U.S. each year. Conceived by MASS Design Group and conceptual artist and artistic director of Songha & Co. Hank Willis Thomas, and developed in partnership with the gun violence prevention organizations Purpose Over Pain and Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, the exhibition is located on the Museum’s ground floor and free for all visitors to experience. It will be on display through September 2022 and is presented in conjunction with Justice is Beauty: The Work of MASS Design Group, a timely new exhibition exploring the work of the socially conscious nonprofit global architecture firm.

“As the recent tragic shootings in Colorado and Georgia sadly underscore, gun violence isn’t an abstract concept, but an epidemic that strikes every American community,” said Brent D. Glass, Interim Executive Director of the National Building Museum. “We are honored to host the Gun Violence Memorial Project so that our visitors may experience firsthand the power of design to encourage reflection, memory, and healing.”

The Gun Violence Memorial Project comprises four houses, each built of 700 glass bricks, a reference to the number of people in the U.S. killed by guns every week. Over time, the bricks will continue to be filled with remembrance objects donated by immediate family members of loved ones taken by gun violence. The houses currently hold hundreds of objects—including photographs, baby shoes, graduation tassels, jewelry, a jump rope, and a prayer book—that reveal the personal narratives of each victim.

“By using a recognizable form of house as the main structure and filling it with personal items, visitors instantly make a connection to the individual and bear witness to the true human toll of gun violence,” said Jha D. Williams, a Senior Associate at MASS Design Group.

Featured within the exhibition is a video presentation with excerpts from Comes the Light, a forthcoming documentary about the effects of gun violence by filmmakers Haroula Rose and Caryn Capotosto. Footage of interviews filmed in the District and Chicago captures stories about lives cut short and the objects chosen to represent them in the Gun Violence Memorial Project. Audio installations from sound artist Sam Stubblefield and StoryCorps illustrate the indelible impact gun violence inflicts on victims, survivors, families, and friends.

In the exhibition, as well as online, visitors can also honor and explore many of the lives reflected in the Gun Violence Memorial Project through Moments That Survive. Hosted by Everytown, this digital storytelling campaign allows Americans directly affected by gun violence to share stories, objects, places, or actions that reflect how their lives have changed forever as a result of gun violence. Moments That Survive builds community among survivors and helps the public understand the many repercussions of gun violence. The installation concludes with a space for reflection and a call to action, offering visitors takeaway cards with information about local resources for survivors and allies.

The National Building Museum is the memorial’s second installation; the Gun Violence Memorial Project premiered at the Chicago Cultural Center in September 2019 as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. The ultimate goal of the project is to create a permanent national memorial that honors the lives and narratives of victims of gun violence, using the current design as a prototype.

“In the movement to end gun violence, we must remember who we’re fighting for and who can no longer stand beside us in this fight,” said Noelle Howey, Senior Director of Cultural Engagement at Everytown. “This project uses tangible objects to spotlight the trauma and pain felt throughout our country. This Memorial will play a huge role in changing hearts and minds, and illustrates the need for immediate action on gun violence.”

The Gun Violence Memorial Project is presented in connection with Justice is Beauty: The Work of MASS Design Group, a concurrent Museum exhibition. Other memorial designs by the firm are featured in the exhibition, including a planned sculpture and memorial dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in Boston, designed by Hank Willis Thomas and MASS; and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery, Alabama, which opened in 2018 and commemorates more than 4,000 victims of racially motivated lynchings.

“I am honored to contribute to the Gun Violence Memorial Project at the National Building Museum,” said Thomas. “My family felt the effects of gun violence firsthand when my cousin was murdered during a robbery in 2000. My life, and by extension my artistic practice, has been influenced ever since.”

The Gun Violence Memorial Project is presented in partnership with Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. Support for this installation at the National Building Museum is provided by Crystal and Chris Sacca, Hasten Foundation, Koogle Foundation, Ravenswood Studio, Herman Miller, and anonymous donors.

Additional partners for the Gun Violence Memorial Project include: Center for American Progress; Change the Ref; Helping Hands Inc.; Jared’s Heart of Success; Louis D. Brown Peace Institute; Moms Bonded By Grief; Mothers Fighting for Justice; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV); Newtown Action Alliance; Philadelphia Ceasefire; Purpose 4 My Pain; Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; RJT Foundation; States United to Prevent Gun Violence; and The Akilah Dasilva Foundation.

Justice is Beauty: The Work of MASS Design Group is made possible by The Kendeda Fund, CoStar Group, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative DAF of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, ARUP, STUDIOS Architecture, Herman Miller Cares, and Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. Additional support was provided by John Means and Rebecca Ballard; Robert Holleyman and Bill J. Keller; McInturff Architects; and Arentz Landscape Architects, LLC.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL BUILDING MUSEUM
The National Building Museum inspires curiosity about the world we design and build. We believe that understanding the impact of architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, construction, planning, and design is important for everyone. Through exhibitions, educational programs, and special events, we welcome visitors of all ages to experience stories about the built world and its power to shape our lives, our communities, and our futures. Public inquiries: 202.272.2448, info@nbm.org, or visit www.nbm.org. Connect with us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

ABOUT MASS DESIGN GROUP
MASS Design Group is an architecture and design collective that researches, builds, and advocates for architecture that promotes justice and human dignity. They have worked in over 20 countries, with 30 projects built or in construction. MASS brings inclusive design processes and invests in community empowerment, helping partners advance their mission through the built environment. Their project, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, was recently called “the single greatest work of American architecture of the twenty-first century.”

ABOUT SONGHA & COMPANY
By and through its chief artistic officer, Hank Willis Thomas, Songha & Company practices in the area of conceptual public art by working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. The company was named after Thomas’ cousin, Songha Thomas Willis, who was a victim of gun violence on February 2, 2000.

ABOUT EVERYTOWN FOR GUN SAFETY SUPPORT FUND
Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (the “Everytown Support Fund”) is the education, research and litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country with nearly six million supporters. The Everytown Support Fund seeks to improve our understanding of the causes of gun violence and help to reduce it by conducting groundbreaking original research, developing evidence-based policies, communicating this knowledge to the American public, and advancing gun safety and gun violence prevention in communities and the courts. Learn more at www.EverytownResearch.org.

ABOUT PURPOSE OVER PAIN
Purpose Over Pain was formed in 2007 by several Chicago area parents whose children’s lives were taken by gun violence. They advocate for safer communities, strengthen families by providing crisis support to parents/guardians whose children have been victims of gun violence, and provide positive development activities for children and youth.