The Regeneration Project began in 2018, initially as a guns-to-art project, with support from the Anacortes Arts Festival, a handful of artists, local individuals, and churches. The goal was to take guns out of circulation and create public awareness through the creation of a piece of public art.
After researching the path to receiving forfeited guns, organizers scheduled a gun intake day in September of 2018. They received approximately 12 guns plus knives and even numerous toy guns. With the aid of a blacksmith’s forge and steel saw, weapons were disabled.
Following the gun intake, the artists gathered to discuss the art project. Early conversation was how to transform the forfeited guns into either a collaborative or individual works of art. As artists sat around a table, surrounded by weapons, they found that they had varied reactions to the guns themselves and the bigger cultural issue of mass shootings. It appeared that everyone was not on the same page. Yet every artist present felt passionately drawn to the project.
After several more meetings and candid conversation, artists decided that the project should focus on the victims themselves, rather than the guns. Once that was determined, it grew into the idea of a cairn to honor those victims. With a concept in place, the next questions would be how to identify victims, what artistic vehicle to use and how to technically create this collaborative piece.
Sadly, collecting the names of victims was the easy part: there are numerous sites listing them, including Gun Violence Archive and Behind the Badge Foundation.
As word of the project spread throughout the artist community, more and more artists wanted to be involved. Eventually, over 40 artists participated in the creation of rocks for the cairn, 2 artists worked on the internal structure and three artists collaborated on the video accompaniment. The pieces gathered in garages and studios prior to its installation at the Anacortes Arts Festival Arts at the Port fine art exhibition in August of 2019. During it's exhibition at the Festival, "Say Their Names" was viewed by approximately 10,000 visitors.
As part of the installation of the memorial cairn, a multi-media video production focused on gun violence was created, as well as an additional screen displaying Gun Violence Archive, a real-time representation of gun violence that also includes an interactive conversational component. Also, a three-dimensional sculpture by a Northwest sculptor using materials collected from the initial gun turn-in was be exhibited. The public was invited to write thoughts on a blackboard...it was completely filled by the end of the exhibition.
Project organizers hope the memorial cairn installation will have a life beyond the festival itself and are currently seeking funding for it to travel to other communities where citizens, especially students, can host it to raise awareness of gun violence in the U.S.