GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s a problem that has long plagued our nation: Gun violence.

On average, gun violence takes more than 1,200 lives each year in Michigan and 2021 is on pace to be the worst year in decades.

“I think we’re all struggling with the amount of violence in our communities,” said Portland, Oregon, based artist Leslie Lee.

After the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, Lee began looking into statistics of gun violence in the U.S.

“I was just so appalled by the numbers,” she said. “As an artist, I felt that this needed a visual. That in order for us to understand these kinds of numbers, we needed to see something that represented each one of these people.”

That’s where the Soul Box Project comes in. Each of Lee’s displays features hundreds to thousands of 3-by-3-inch paper origami Masu boxes. Each box represents someone who has been killed or injured by gunfire.

“People all over the country have made them and we have over 200,000 of them now,” Lee said. “We have so many of them now that now we’re concentrating on exhibiting them which is what is happening at ArtPrize.”

Lee learned about ArtPrize from one of her project team members who is from the Kalamazoo area, and although the project is nationwide, she said the impact is felt in almost every community. That includes Grand Rapids, which last year saw its most violent year ever.

Inside the Atrium at Uccello’s, 8,800 soul boxes are on display, representing the men, women and children killed or injured by a gun in Michigan in just three years. Half of them died.

Lee said it’s not just people shooting each other, though:

“Over half of gunfire deaths are suicides and so we’re talking about a very societal thing here.”

From mental health support, to increased gun safety, Lee hopes her project will help spark change, by inspiring people to take action.

“This is an art piece and art is not… doesn’t tell people what to do. Art provokes thought and individual reactions and that’s what the Soul Box Project is all about.”

After ArtPrize ends, the soul boxes will be moved to Washington, D.C. for a memorial called “This Loss We Carry.” There will be 36,000 boxes on display at the Washington Mall from Oct. 16 to Oct. 17 to represent the number of gunfire deaths in the U.S. in just one year. After that, the panels will continue to raise awareness in hundreds of smaller exhibits nationwide.

The Soul Box Project is also a nonprofit. To support its mission or find out how to bring a display to your own community, visit