Witnessing the Metro Gun Share Program at Daley Plaza

Ojo Customs' Kevin O’Neill interacts with the Metro Gun Share installation in Daley Plaza

Ojo Customs’ Kevin O’Neill interacts with the Metro Gun Share installation in Daley Plaza

These days, the Chicago streets are filled with so many options for share programs. On your way to work? Rent a Divvy bike. Need to drive across town? Rent a Zip Car. Are you in a fit of anger? Grab an AR-15 with the city’s new Metro Gun Share Program.

Or at least, that is the creative challenge presented by The Escape Pod, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and Ojo Customs’ art installation outside of Chicago’s Daley Plaza.

“Everyone is getting inundated by the message,” remarks The Escape Pod CEO Celia Jones. “We just wanted to have something that was physical that could kind of stop you in your tracks to get you to start thinking about it again.”

On May 10th, Reel Chicago published an informative article about the installation in order to get the word out, but being in the physical space, it only felt appropriate to witness the replica AR-15s in real life.

The Metro Gun Share Program at Daley Plaza
The Metro Gun Share Program at Daley Plaza

Across from Picasso’s cubist sculpture at the corner of Washington and Clark, Reel Chicago observed what appeared to be a bike station full of assault rifles intriguing onlookers while nearby members of Ojo Customs and The Escape Pod reviewed their work.

Sitting just outside of the Daley Plaza, The Escape Pod’s Executive Producer Kent Kwiatt provided some context for the spectacle.

“This idea was prompted by the notion that more guns will assist in some of the issues in our culture,” he said. “A question occurred to me: what would the world look like with total access?”


Interview by Johnny Lange

Both CEO Jones and EP Kwiatt credit lunchtime conversations for what Kwiatt calls “just a creative notion.” The impromptu discussions inspired them to search for a partner organization and an artist to bring it to life.

“The Brady Center with its national footprint became a viable option,” Kwiatt continues. “And after discussions with them, it was just a clear choice.”

According to Jones and Kwiatt, the Brady Center’s focus on Federal common sense reform made the partnership a natural fit. One of the two posters includes statistics on the disparity between gun laws in Illinois and gun laws in Indiana.

Ojo Customs' Nicholas Berg and The Escape Pod's Kent Kwiatt at Daley Plaza
Ojo Customs’ Nicholas Berg and The Escape Pod’s Kent Kwiatt at Daley Plaza

Since Indiana borders the southernmost communities of Chicago, a substantial number of Windy City residents live closer to an authorized gun dealership than they do to Wrigley Field, the Magnificent Mile, and downtown Chicago.

Like the Brady Center, Chicago-based Ojo Customs was another logical choice for a partner. CEO and Founder Nicholas Berg has already worked with The Escape Pod’s sister company, the experiential-marketing firm OutCold.

Berg explained that he was “commissioned by The Escape Pod” to create the Metro Gun Share Program.

Kwiatt praised Berg and his work: “He is just an amazing talent, wanted to get involved… and dedicated countless, countless hours. I had not worked with him personally before, but will many times in the future.”

Also outside of Daley Plaza, Kevin O’Neill of Ojo Customs commented on the work, “There were dozens of us working, sometimes around the clock.”

O’Neill proudly emphasized, “This is probably the most important thing I’ve ever worked on… to come out with something so big, not only in scale but also in social impact.”

Any art this bold can expect negative feedback, but onlookers who spoke to Reel Chicago expressed entirely positive remarks.

Alex Valery
Alex Valery

Passerby Alex Valery said, “Honestly, it’s very realistic… very thought provoking. I hope that it’s at least getting people to talk about a serious problem here in Chicago.”

When speaking of the impact of walking past a “rack full of guns,” he added, “The shock value itself is going to get people to stop and take notice, and then, once you get over that, you start reading the information that is presented.”

After being asked if he thought it was real, Valery laughs, “If anything, there was a moment where I hoped it wasn’t real!”

While the installation is attention getting and heavy handed, The Escape Pod is convinced that it is the type of art that brings up questions rather than shouts opinions.

“We saw this as a forum to promote thought in other individuals,” said Kwiatt, “and not really take a side on the issue.”

Celia Jones
Celia Jones

Jones remarked, “There’s a lot of people on all sides of the issue, and that’s part of a healthy debate within society… Just to get people talking about it, to get people engaged, to actually stop and touch and feel what if feels like to potentially have that thing in your hand and read a little more about it. Take action if you feel mobilized to do so.”

When asked what it would take for the installation to be a success, Kwiatt responded, “I think it already is.”

The Metro Gun Share Program will continue to be displayed outside the Daley Plaza through May 16. After that, The Escape Pod hopes to move it to other Chicago locations, and Kwiatt dreams of it being displayed at Lollapalooza 2018.

Hopefully, this is just the beginning of Nicholas Berg and Ojo Customs’ commissioned art installation that sparks questions, invites debate, and informs – all in the physical space.

Contact Joey Filer at Joey@reelchicago.com or follow him on Twitter @FilerJoey.