Milford woman creates public art campaign to get out gun violence prevention message

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

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

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

“It was just a cumulative effect … seeing one after another,” Lewis said. “I was at my breaking point, and with children … it was extra devastating.”

Lewis, marketing and communications director at the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County, has turned to her arts background to create Wings4Peace, a national art movement 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 with the Milford Arts Council. “They inspire us, challenge us, connect us, heal us, and most of all they can provoke us to take action.”

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

“My life song has always been about unity and community,” Lewis added. “This project felt inspired from the beginning. It’s been a lifetime coming. 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 public art piece that will evolve over the course of four months and an incorporated message about gun violence that is revealed one word at a time each month from July through October.

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

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

“On the other side of it, I had a feeling of peace come over me and felt inspired … it’s been brewing for a long time. I’ve always known that the arts could and should be at the heart of cultural and societal solutions — a catalyst for change,” she said.

Lewis then got on Twitter and contacted David Hogg, a student survivor of the Parkland school shooting and gun control activist.

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

Hogg put Lewis in contact with California resident and Artists for Peace founder Gracie Pekrul, another gun control activist using art to bring attention to the issue. Lewis then went to longtime friend and MAC executive director Paige Miglio to brainstorm on what the art initiative would look like.

“Paige mentioned using wings as the call-to-art theme,” Lewis said. “It is a great visual symbol, one of freedom, safety, a new direction. I loved the idea and decided we needed to add a message alongside it, one that we could get to help this go across the nation.”

Miglio said her thoughts turned to the children, and how people should value children above all else. Decisions needs to be made that will “let them fly,” she said.

“Wings are good vehicle ... they speak to the souls lost as well as the potential of children. They need to be allowed to soar,” Miglio added.

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

“We decided to make it a collaborative effort between Wings4Peace and Artists for Peace,” Pekrul said. “People from all over the country, including myself, have been displaying their own unique rendering of the wings in cities everywhere.

“It has been amazing to see creators advocate for a common message in so many beautiful ways,” Pekrul added. “Through Wings4Peace, parents, kids, teachers, students, artists, and non-artists are uniting to demand a safer future. As the midterms approach, we find it important to keep this issue at the forefront, and we hope to inspire others to take action at the polls and beyond.”

Lewis said the initial interest has not only been surprising but inspiring. In all, 15 states are represented.

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

“Throughout history, it has been artists who engage the conscience of society on an emotional level,” Hicks said. “Art in all forms — from Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ to Childish Gambino’s music video ‘This is America’ — have worked to engage us, and engagement leads to action.”

Hicks praised Wings4Peace’s goal to further bring the conversation about gun violence to light.

“This levels the playing field because anyone can join,” said Hicks, who has a Facebook page titled DefenDemocracy of CT, which she says is a landing page for calls to action. “We hope that these wings, which are already sprouting up all over the country, will instigate action, discourse, and most importantly, voting on Nov. 8 for leaders who advocate for gun violence prevention.”

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

“I decided to draw portraits of the 17 victims and bring them as protest signs 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 feeds into Lewis’ initiative.

“Visual storytelling has a power unlike anything else, and I believe it is one of the most effective tools to inform, empower, and inspire others,” Pekrul said. “The Uvalde shooting gutted me, and in response I formed Artists for Peace with David Hogg, a grassroots collective of artists against gun violence.

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

Pekrul and Lewis hope that 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 nationwide flash mob art project. Phase 2 is to get people to vote for pro-peace candidates through nationwide arts festivals on a specific day, and Phase 3 will focus on raising money for pro-peace organizations through an online art auction.

“I have no idea where this is going,” Lewis said. “I'm just so happy we got it to launch so that we could bring people together and bring awareness to the gun violence crisis. Now, it’s all about letting go, letting it unfold, and watching it fly. Unity building through collective creative energy is at the heart of all of this. That’s something that tends to take on a life of its own. Just like art.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com