Published on November 3, 2022 | SI Advance | Written by Carol Ann Benanti
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Sundog Theatre has expanded its anti-gun violence program in Staten Island.
The theater partnered with The Non-Violence Project Foundation, an international body focused on awareness of violence and conflict resolution strategies, to promote peace and social change through education. Incorporating art into awareness programs internationally, the Foundation has branched out to the U.S. and embraced a school in every New York City borough to give students the opportunity to participate.
HERE’S HOW IT HAPPENED
After hearing about Sundog Theatre’s Anti-Gun Violence Initiative at Curtis High School, The Foundation’s USA Country Director John McKenna connected with Sundog Executive Director Susan Fenley. Together, the two organizations collaborated on Why Knot NY?, a social-emotional learning and creative arts project focused on violence prevention and conflict resolution from a youth-led perspective.
Violence is defined as bullying, sexual, or gun violence. The “Knot” is a play on words that signifies the knotted gun sculpture on display at the United Nations.
The original knotted gun sculpture, titled “Non-Violence,” was originally created by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd as a memorial tribute to John Lennon after he was shot and killed in Manhattan in 1980.
Initially intended for a Strawberry Fields Memorial in Central Park, the bronze sculpture was donated by the government of Luxembourg and unveiled in 1988 in front of the United Natioins headquarters, where it currently stands.
A group of students in Curtis High School and four other city schools each designed and painted small knotted gun resin art pieces with acrylic paint. A number of celebrities, including Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, and Muhammad Ali, had previously painted their own knotted gun artwork in solidarity with the anti-gun message. Plans are underway for the Curtis pieces to be exhibited at the UN in 2023.
This artistic event culminated a 13-week anti-gun violence program initiated by former City Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo, new Department of Cultural Affairs commissioner, and titled “Art a Catalyst for Change.” Through Sundog’s Anti-Gun Violence program, students explored conflict and its potential resolutions through student expressions of art and music at Curtis High School. The Anti-Gun Violence program was funded by the New York City Council.
Gun violence in 2022 tipped the scales for the first time as the No. 1 cause of death among adolescents in the United States. Each year, over 1.6 million people lose their lives to violence, according to the World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health.
“With young people, awareness and establishing dialogue about the problem can lead to creative solutions,” explained Susan Fenley. “Art and music give teens means of expression and ways to communicate their fear about what is happening on the streets and in homes. In turn, that translates into how they live their lives and helps enable them carry messages of resolving conflict before it escalates to gun violence.”
“It has been nothing short of a humbling joy to offer these peace-building and conflict-resolution workshops to students all across New York City, many of whom live daily with the anxiety and trauma of incessant gun violence in their communities,” said McKenna. “When one witnesses what the youth create and express, as well as offer in terms of solutions, it begs us as adults to take notice. We challenge anyone who has seen their interpretations of the Knotted Gun not to be moved.”
ABOUT SUNDOG THEATRE
Founded in 2002, Sundog Theatre is a Staten Island-based performing arts organization with several components to its mission: original, contemporary, and thought provoking theatre in diverse venues, culturally-based school programming rooted in theatre, visual arts, dance, music and literacy programs for schools that complement classroom lessons through the arts. They also offer tri-state touring productions for schools on educational and contemporary themes — and acting lessons year-round for young adults ages 9 to 17. For additional information visit www.SundogTheatre.org or phone 718 816-5453.