He hadn’t heard of Newark, NJ until last year when he came across a news story about the Christmas shooting death of a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy in Newark. It was that shooting that made British artist Killy Kilford want to do something about the violence in the city.
In cooperation with Newark’s Mayor Ras Baraka, Kilford’s “Love Up Guns Down” will install metal street signs, paid for an anonymous art collector, throughout the city. According to NY Mag, each sign will contain one of ten inspirational phrases coined by teenagers during workshops Kilford held in Newark schools and detention centers in the past few months.
There’s ‘Less Drugs, More Hugs,’ there’s ‘Follow Dreams, Not Crowds,’ ‘Make God Big Homie,'” the silver-haired 38-year-old said, counting off the slogans on his fingers. “I didn’t want to be the English guy that jumps in there and says, ‘Let’s be happy and put signs up,’ so the workshops were about making sure you’re engaged with the right tone and real Newarkers to come up with these phrases.”
The project is set to launch on October 15, when Newark mayor Ras Baraka will install the first of the signs himself. The Newark Anti-Violence Coalition — a coalition of community activists whose members helped Kilford get the project off the ground — will install 100 more later that day. In the remaining months of 2014, the city will put up another 100, meaning happy street signs will soon be a near-ubiquitous fixture in Newark, no doubt inducing some head-scratching from outsiders who are unfamiliar with the project.
Before Kilford took on the project, he actively became involved in the Newark community.
Kilford has no family in Newark. He has no professional history there. Until a few months ago, he had never set foot in the city. Indeed, his interest in Newark is somewhat arbitrary. Last December, he says he came across a news story about the Christmas shooting death of a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy in Newark. The city’s crime rate was already double the national average, and that double homicide had pushed the year’s murder total into triple digits for the first time in nearly a decade. The shooting spurred Kilford into action. “I thought happy street signs and creativity could help prevent it happening again,” he said.
So, uninvited by anyone, he decided to cross the Hudson and get to know the city. He says he sought phone numbers for high schools and youth detention centers in Newark and cold-called them to arrange workshops where he could encourage teens to create designs for their own happy street signs. But he also had his eye on bigger fish. In the spring, he started attending election events to see how the candidates vying to replace Cory Booker were going to tackle the crime epidemic. At one such event, he first saw Baraka.
Take a look at the promotional video below: