Sacred Heart mother #UNLOADs the conversation of Gun Violence

Sacred+Heart+mother+%23UNLOADs+the+conversation+of+Gun+Violence

After the Las Vegas shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival Sunday, October 1, 2017 left 58 people dead and 851 injured, a Sacred Heart Greenwich mother with a passion for gun-control advocacy decided enough was enough. 

Mrs. Mary Himes and her daughter Linley Himes ’20 pose for a picture at #UNLOAD’s first art exhibit. Courtesy of Mr. Asher Almonacy for the greenwichfreepress.com 

Mrs. Mary Himes is the co-founder of #UNLOAD, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control and uses art to inspire conversation. Mrs. Himes is the mother of sophomore Linley Himes and is married to Connecticut’s fourth-district Congressman Mr. Jim Himes. The other co-founder of #UNLOAD is Ms. Helen Klisser During. She is a photojournalist and the former Artistic Director at the Westport Arts Center.
Mrs. Himes and Ms. Klisser During decided to organize a yearlong active dialogue about gun violence while incorporating art as a major focal point, according to westportnow.com.
“We started #UNLOAD because we were frustrated with the lack of progress being made on the legislative front to address the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” Mrs. Himes said. “If the death of 20 first-graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook school didn’t move enough members of Congress to pass a single piece of gun safety legislation on the federal level, then I figured it was time to try something new. In addition, the conversation in the political arena is polarized and paralyzed.”
The arts-based initiative includes a gun buyback program located in Hartford, Connecticut. The goal of the gun buyback program is to reduce the number of firearms in Connecticut and provide an organized process for civilians to sell their privately-owned firearms to the government without the risk of their own prosecution, according to nyc.gov.
“Frustrated by the lack of legislative progress, I wondered what else I could do to move the needle to try to reduce gun violence,” Mrs. Himes said. “I wondered what would happen if I did a mashup of my two passions: art and gun safety issues? That’s when the idea of using the arts to trigger conversations arose.”
Ms. Helen Klisser During, Mrs. Mary Himes, and Mr. Lee Milazzo posing for a picture at the Samuel Owen Gallery for the opening of #UNLOAD’s “Up in Arms” art exhibit. Courtesy of Mr. Asher Almonacy for the greenwichfreepress.com 

The artists who featured their work in the exhibit used their skills in photography, theatre, film, and the fine arts to construct a consensus on the United States’ relationship with guns. The contemporary art pieces sparked controversy and conversation among people about their own opinions on gun control.
The first event of 2018 was an art exhibit titled “Up in Arms.” #UNLOAD hosted the exhibit at the Samuel Owen Gallery located in downtown Stamford, Connecticut. Gallery owners Mr. Lee Milazzo and Mrs. Cindy Milazzo curated the event, which featured art pieces ranging from an elephant with gold guns as tusks, to a bunny made of single bullets. The commonality among all the works was the use of scrap gunmetal and bullets to convey the theme of gun violence in our country.

At the art exhibit, guests could send text messages about the artwork or their personal stance on gun control via a text code that went along with each art piece. The text messages would then appear on a live monitor, giving guests an experience that was interactive and allowed them to see other people’s point of view anonymously.
“I believe we can use the arts to provide opportunities for people to have conversations about gun use and ownership – conversations not just amongst people who agree with each other but between Democrats, Republicans, and independents; gun owners and gun safety advocates,” Mrs. Himes said. “These encounters can propel change so that one day, we’ll have better laws”.
The “Up in Arms” exhibit was the first out of around ten events Mrs. Himes and Ms. Klisser During are organizing for this year. The next event #UNLOAD is organizing is a panel discussion that will take place Saturday, May 12. This event will feature a local student, a representative from the National Rifle Association (NRA), and a student from Parkland, Florida, according to greenwichfreepress.com
The “Up in Arms” art exhibit showcases artist Laurence Vallières’ art piece “Elephant with Guns”. Courtesy of Mr. Asher Almonacy for the greenwichfreepress.com 

“We have many more #UNLOAD events. We are bringing a traveling exhibit, ‘Guns in the Hands of Artists,’ to the Walsh Gallery at Fairfield University. May 31 is opening night and it’s on view until October 10,” Mrs. Himes said. “There are many other events coming so please check out the calendar on our website for a listing.”
To find upcoming art exhibits, traveling art shows, and panel discussions in the area and how to get involved with #UNLOAD visit unloadusa.org.
“I’ve been lucky enough to see the process of my mom’s #UNLOAD foundation from a different perspective, and if anything, getting to see that has shown me that the people who really care about advocating for gun control will put in as much work as it takes in order to achieve the change that this country so desperately needs,” Linley said of her mother’s mission. “Watching her work has inspired me to make my voice heard, regardless of whether I can vote or not.”
– Georgia Ferguson, Staff Writer
Featured Image by Georgia Ferguson ’20