Soul Box Project aims to open hearts, minds in Milwaukie
On May 31, 11 people died in a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
"By the time this article goes to press there could be a more recent shooting," said Leslie Lee, a Portland artist who is the founder of The Soul Box Project, a national community art project to raise awareness of the number of gunfire victims.
Lee modeled The Soul Box Project on the tradition of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The project's goal is to collect one handmade origami box for every person killed or injured by gunfire in the United States since 2014. Each box represents one life, one soul gunned down.
Milwaukie Arts Committee (artMOB) decided it was time to give local residents the chance to make Soul Boxes, so the event will be part of First Friday from 5-7 p.m. on June 7 in front of City Hall.
Two other Soul Box-making events are scheduled for First Fridays on July 5 and Aug. 2.
Soul Box Project
Lee said she founded The Soul Box Project after the Oct. 2, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas. When she learned that 59 people died, 422 were injured by bullets and another 399 had been injured by the panic that ensued, she was shocked.
She also realized that the country was in deep denial about a very serious gunfire epidemic.
"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," Lee said.
She then 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," Lee said.
Before she started The Soul Box Project, Lee said she "was torn in so many different directions and not giving an effective response to anything."
She wanted to make a difference in some way, and using her skills and knowledge of visual art to focus on that has been gratifying.
"Art speaks to our emotions; laws and statistics do not. Responsible action is always more powerful when it comes when an individual chooses that action," Lee said.
"It's been very rewarding and uplifting to see the response from people who are relieved to have something they can do about this very distressing issue. "
Lee added, "I'm glad they feel empowered and I'm grateful for their participation."
The statistics are staggering: 36,000 people are killed or injured by gunfire every year, and about 22,000 more take their own lives with a gun.
"In order for The Soul Box Project to represent all those victims, we need thousands upon thousands of boxes to create huge visceral exhibits that can tour the nation and make it clear that we really do have a gunfire epidemic," Lee said.
"When people come to Milwaukie City Hall and experience the impact of all the poignant Soul Boxes on display, they may be moved to add their own boxes to the project; every box counts," she added.
"Milwaukie wants to have a call to action to promote awareness of gun violence and empower our citizens to do something about this 21st century travesty," said artMOB member Serafine Lilien.
"This special art project is important to the members of artMOB, because we know that art can heal; it can bring people and communities together in a different way than just seeing events on the news," said Sarah Bagley, another artMOB member.
"First Fridays are such fun, growing and dynamic events for Milwaukie, so we expect a high level of interest and participation in making these beautiful paper boxes," she said.
Bagley added, "The really exciting part will be in August: The Soul Box Project will be on display in City Hall Gallery, and every box that we all create during First Fridays will be a part of this art exhibit."
The overall goal of The Soul Box Project is to exhibit 200,000 boxes on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2020.
As horrific as mass shooting are, Lee noted, "It's important to remember that they represent less than one percent of the nation's deaths and injuries from firearms."
She added that over 100 people are shot dead every day, some from violence, but many others from defense, accidents and suicides.
"The Soul Box Project's entire purpose is to make the number of victims resonate so deeply in people's hearts that they take action to make that number go down," Lee said.
"Locking up guns and making sure no child or anyone who is unstable can access them is one way. Making Soul Boxes is another, with so many ways in between," she said. "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."
Lee added, "Making boxes is a beautiful, even enjoyable, way to voice concern about the gunfire epidemic."
Make a Soul Box!
When: Milwaukie residents are encouraged to make Soul Boxes from 5-7 p.m. on June 7, July 5 and Aug. 2.
Details: Download folding instructions and watch an instructional video at soulboxproject.org.