Pop-Up Art Exhibition at Iowa State Focuses on Mass Shootings

AMES, Iowa  --  A new pop-up exhibition in the Iowa State University ReACT Gallery, "Thoughts and Prayers - Mass Shootings in the United States," is opening up avenues for more conversation on the topic.

“So we’ve chosen objects that can help us understand this dialogue and this narrative in various ways. Some are trying to help us understand how we feel and help us understand the other perspective. In a way, opening up a dialogue about something that can be a very divisive topic,” ReACT Gallery Curator Nancy Gebhart said.

Even the title is meant to spark more conversation.

“There’s nothing wrong with giving thoughts and prayers. That's actually a kind thing to say, but there’s no action to it. And it’s just kind of drawing attention to that, that thoughts and prayers without action don’t actually do much,” Gebhart said.

Each piece of art or installation in the exhibition is paired with a statement or comment from professors who have studied a variety of aspects of mass shootings and violence.

One featured sculpture titled “So Much to Contemplate” was paired with a comment from psychology professor Craig Anderson.

“It was just this list and these are the issues from my perspective, it was like, one, this is a problem, two, this is a problem. It was a list of like 12 or 13 things that just reading it felt really overwhelming, and I think that’s what this sculpture represents," Gebhart said. "How can we take all of this information and all of these facts and statistics and everything that we are talking about but turn it into something tangible and actionable."

Exhibit visitors can take action even before they leave the room by writing letters to lawmakers or simply sharing their feelings.

“So there’s space to interact, so you can respond simply to the comment of ‘I feel’ related to this issue. What are you personally feeling, and then you might also see some comments left by other visitors that you can relate to, and maybe that’s comforting in recognizing you’re not alone in how you feel,” Gebhart said.

An intern in the gallery said he thinks it’s important to approach mass shootings in many different ways so people can fully process the tragedy.

“I think approaching it through the lens of art is something that isn’t done very often, and we kind of get locked in these political struggles and we sort of leave out maybe emotional sides or emotional aspects. And I think art allows us to still have an intellectual and informative approach, but also you are engaging with what I think it means to be human,” ReACT Gallery intern Collin Powell said.

Powell said this exhibit is important for society, and especially students.

“Personally, as a student, the topic of mass shootings directly affects my safety, as a student at a university, my safety doing anything on a college campus. And I think being able to talk about that is super important because it affects the huge population of students we have in Ames, but also every other city, country, state,” he said.

The exhibition is located in Morrill Hall at Iowa State and is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through March 9th. Admission is free with a suggested $3 donation.