An eerie mosaic of chalk outlines depicting sprawled or crumpled bodies grew steadily along JFK Boulevard between 20th the 30th streets in Philadelphia beneath a cloudless Saturday sky. Taken together, the 10-blocks of bodies represented each man, woman, and child killed due to gun violence last year, all part of Peter Quinn’s artistic project American Casualties: A Chalk Drawing.
“There’s over 10,000 people a year just in the U.S. that are killed by guns,” said Alex Krok, an event organizer and one of about 45 Arcadia students who helped to make this collaborative vision a reality. “That’s about 30 people a day. Every one of these outlines [represents] something that actually happened in this country.”
The event, held in conjunction with the United Nations World Day for Peace and Peace Day Philly on Sept. 21, aimed to depict the tremendous scale of gun-related violence in America with a total of more than 9,000 bodies. As part of the effort, Mayor Michael Nutter’s office approved shutting down the 10-block section of the city, running east from 30th Street station and over the Schuylkill River to accommodate the chalk drawings and Arcadia’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution program helped promote and staff the event.
“What I think is so unique about this is you will actually get some illustration that is representative of the enormity of the number of people that go unwitnessed and just left in the wake of all of this—family, friends,” said Ellie Beal, who attended the event in part to commemorate her best friend, who was murdered five years ago in Philadelphia. “This touched my life in a way that is just irreversible. He was my best friend since we were 18 years old and he was murdered when he was 37.”
The project aligns closely with the philosophy and goals of Arcadia’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution program, which promotes thinking on a global scale and taking action locally to promote change, explained Dr. Amy Cox, director of the program and assistant professor of political science.
“You don’t have to dedicate the rest of your life every day and volunteer every moment, but doing little things here and there can really change the direction of a specific issue that matters to you or the direction of a city,” said Cox, who said the project serves several purposes, including commemorating of those who have died, helping those who have been touched by gun violence heal, and raising awareness. “The whole idea behind it is to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it outside…you can really feel that the work that you’re doing can make a difference in the world.”
Several joggers, tourists, and locals stopped to observe the students as they lay on the ground and traced one another, alongside students from Montgomery Community College, the Chestnut Hill College basketball team, and other community members.
“I’m in Philadelphia for the first time from Boston. I’m just walking by and I see people lying down on the street so I had to see what that was about… the visual of this is great,” said filmmaker Maria Della Croce, who was on her way to a film festival at the Franklin Institute for a screening of her film, Grace Period. “It really hits home.”