An Interview with Jonathan Ferrara | July 2014

 “Guns in the Hands of Artists”
A P.3+ Exhibition running in conjunction with Prospect.3
Opening October 2014!*


“[New Orleans is] always the leader in murders, maybe we can take the lead in something else, which is possibly a solution–in a social activist way–to go against the grain of what we have here. It would be a nice thing for the city, the NOPD, and the exhibition, for it to be sent [elsewhere]…so there’s a continuum of this project, and to be able to say, this is what we did in New Orleans: we worked with schools, we worked with buy-back, and here’s the exhibition, you too could do this in your city…”


Left: Jonathan Ferrara in front of Bonnie Maygarden’s Desert of the Real, the gallery’s most recent exhibition. Right: Guns in the Hands of Artists. Courtesy of Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans.

[On his reason for presenting another iteration of ”Guns in the Hands of Artists”]
[I want] to revisit [the concept], but on a higher level, higher scale, with national artists, so that it’s the artistic side, but it’s also the gun side as well, and in that process it’s kind of like a potluck dinner: I give you a gun, you go make your meal and you come back and bring it to the table and you present it here in the gallery. I don’t tell anyone what to do, what kind of take to have on it, or anything like that. It’s strictly the artist’s interpretation using the imagery of the guns that they have.

Courtesy of Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans

Where did the sewing machines come from?
That was [from] the prior iteration of [“Guns in the Hands of Artists” when] we actually got a goods-for-guns swap, so we traded sewing machines for guns. [For] this one…the guns were already acquired by the NOPD [and] have now been distributed to the 30 artists across the country, they will then make their works….The artworks will then be installed on the 27th of September, and the exhibition will run from October 3rd through January 25th. It opens to the New Orleans community first and then will reopen on [October 24th] during Prospect and run contiguous to Prospect. So in that time frame, we’re putting together our educational components to use the backdrop of the gallery that will be filled with artworks from “Guns.” The International Sculpture Center is presenting the first panel discussion here on October 3rd … in conjunction with their conference here in New Orleans, so there will be three artists on that panel. In addition to that, I’m working with the New Orleans Police Department so that on the first of November… we’re going to have an actual gun buy-back, so people conceptually can see guns taken off the street and during the opening that night the guns [will be] on view. The first time [for] the opening of [“Guns in the Hands of Artists”], we did a gun buy-back and it became this cycle of fulfillment. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the artwork will go to buy more guns off the streets. I’m [also] working with … McDonogh City Park Academy. There’s a history of gun violence there, so bringing in about 150 students that are of the right age to see the work, exposing them to the work that’s in the show, and having artists go into their schools and potentially use some of the guns I have left over to make artwork and have dialogue in the classroom…. It would be a nice thing for the city, the NOPD, and the exhibition, for it to be sent to Baltimore,  and I’m trying to bring it to Aspen, so there’s continuum of this project and to be able to say, we did this in New Orleans, we worked with schools, we worked with buy-back, and here’s the exhibition, you too could do this in your city.

You have four openings, will you buy back guns at all four openings?
No, just the first one, because it costs $25,000  to buy back the guns each time

How exactly do you buy back the guns?
Literally, at the police department. I was trying to do it here [at the gallery], but it’s not safe, there aren’t enough exits, so it [will] be done at the police department. They have resources there, so we have to determine which is the best location. I would have loved to have done it in here, but the point is to have the gun buy-back, it’s the conceptual tie-in to the city: in one day, guns [are taken] off the streets and then there’s an opening and there’s art on the walls.

The police don’t ask any questions?
Nope, no questions.

How many people show up?
If we have $25,000 [to spend], and if you figure … $55 for a handgun, $100 for a rifle, that’s about 200 [guns]…If [only] one gun is taken out of one house, that [means] some child is not going to fire and shoot his sister or brother, then that’s one life saved, and that’s a step in the right direction. There are a lot of guns just sitting around not being used. …R. Luke DuBois, who’s a Music Professor at Columbia University [as well as Prospect.2 alumnus], is working with a local electrical engineer…to buy a decommissioned gun from the NOPD list, and … tie it into the NOPD’s Twitter feed. Every time bullets are fired in New Orleans their Twitter feed responds to that, [so you could] be sitting in the middle of a conversation and BAM! Basically you’re being informed then and there that a crime is being committed in the city. It’s very visceral and it’s very much as if you’re not removed from that situation.


Courtesy of Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans

Prospect New Orleans Alumni in the ‘Guns in the Hands of Artists’ exhibition include:

Luis Cruz Azaceta
John Barnes
R. Luke DuBois
Skylar Fein
Rico Gatson
Bradley McCallum
Dan Tague
Robert Tannen
Paul Villinski

*P.3+ is the Satellite Program for Prospect.3. This program is directed at highlighting and promoting concurrent exhibitions and arts events put up by local artists during the opening weekend and throughout the course of the Biennial.

Danni Shen
Summer Intern/Social Media Co-Director