Go directly to main content

Artwork sends emotional message on school shootings

August 30, 2018

KOKOMO, Ind. — One black Sharpie. 252 schools. Unlimited emotions.

A school desk-turned art piece memorializes the students, families, teachers, and communities devastated by school shootings across the country for the past 19 years.

Along with the names of each school affected since Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, a message is carved into the center of the desk – a statement the artist wants onlookers to take away after viewing the display.


“I want to evoke a little heartache, and awareness,” said Mike Applegate, an Indiana University Kokomo adjunct instructor and Peru High School art teacher. “The point is, these are kids getting shot in their schools.”

The Sharpie rests on the desk, pointed at the name Noblesville West Middle School, site of the last school shooting in the United States. It probably won’t stay there, he said grimly.

“The average is, I will write nine more names this year,” he said.

After the May 25 shootings at Noblesville, Applegate began making a list of all school shootings since Columbine.

“When I first started, I was just writing down names,” he said. “Then an hour went by, and I was still writing. I had two pages, and I kept on writing. It breaks you down when you get to Noblesville, and as you write it down, you think, ‘This is way too close to home.’”

A book nearby lists the shootings by state, along with the number of deaths at each one. Applegate surrounded the desk with 4,000 shell casings, along with crime scene tape.

He vividly recalls the shootings at Noblesville, both because he has a friend who teaches there, and because one of his own students’ reaction — or lack thereof.

Applegate watched this horrific event unfold on the news and via social media. He was in touch with a friend whose daughter was in the classroom where a student shot a classmate and a teacher.

“It was one of those things that get to you,” he said. “She had 29 students in her class she was in charge of, they were on lockdown, and she was getting a phone call from her daughter, screaming about somebody shooting the class. I told my class, and they were like, ‘It’s just another school shooting, Mr. Applegate.’”

At that moment, he knew he needed to do something.

“School shootings have become so commonplace, our students are becoming complacent, people are becoming complacent,” he said. “I started thinking about how I was going to represent the point I wanted to get across. What could I do as an artist to really get the word out, to make people aware this is going on?”

After he completed the work, he made a video of it to show family in Kansas. They shared it, and within a few days, it had more than 19,000 views. It is now being considered for exhibition at an art museum in Chicago.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” he said. “It was something for me to get it off my chest and out of my head. As long as we’re getting the word out, that’s my goal.”

He emphasizes he’s not making an anti-gun statement.

“We need to have something that inspires people to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough,’” Applegate said. “That’s what art is supposed to do. Sometimes it’s just pretty, and sometimes it makes a social statement.”

The installation piece debuted this month in the Art Gallery on campus, as part of the faculty exhibition, which continues through Friday, September 7.

It also will be displayed October 9 in Havens Auditorium during a presentation by Scarlett Lewis, founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation. The foundation honors her son, a first grader who was among 26 students and teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Her 6:30 p.m. appearance is in partnership with Four County Counseling Center. Tickets will be available starting Monday, September 10 at the Office of Student Life and Campus Diversity, along with all branches of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library.

The Gallery is free and open to the public, with free parking on campus. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and closed Sundays and Fridays.

Alternative accessible versions: Read the Transcript

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 08/30/2018