School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: Art & Activism Are Powerful Partners in Illustrating the Impact of Gun Violence on Our Students

A tribute to an amazing high school art teacher and her social justice-minded students who wanted to express their feelings about the impact of gun violence on them and their school communities. We must include the voice of the community, including our youth, in solving the public health emergency of gun violence. 

Meet high school art teacher, Lisa Wallenburg!

This is an abbreviated version of Ms. Wallenburg’s explanation of this social justice art project:

Over the last couple weeks of school, in between senior events and graduation practices, a few students took on a last social justice art project.  I wish that we had had more time to really get all the classes in on this project, but I only had a few of these chairs donated and a few weeks to get it done, but I’m already thinking this will be added to my curriculum next year. 

Camden, New Jersey, High School students explored the impact of gun violence through the use of art as activism = Artivism. They were guided in this powerful exercise by their gifted and devoted art teacher, Lisa Wallenburg. Ms. Wallenburg has been teaching art in the Camden City School District for more than three decades.

Prior to COVID, Lisa and I introduced the concept of #NoMoreEmptyDesks to encourage the students to use art as a modality for self-expression in the ever-mounting number of empty desks left behind by gun violence in the city. In fact, it was such a successful program, that Ms. Wallenburg was awarded a grant for the students to curate an exhibit for the Rutgers-Camden Art Gallery. The idea was that the students would create the art, but also every aspect of the exhibit. Sadly, COVID halted the project, so Ms. Wallenburg had an inspired idea for the students to create miniature versions of their large-scale exhibits. Below you will see examples of what the students created, along with their artist statements.

One student asks through their riveting art, “Do you care about your guns more than me?”


Another high schooler shares this artist’s statement to describe their work:

The chair and its background I made for No More Empty Desks is based on the psychological effects of school shootings such as the trauma brought upon the students and the teachers, the memories of those lost, the fear during a shooting, as well as the grief upon losing someone from a shooting. The piece also changes meaning depending on the perspective.


LS: (black chair with blood in a classroom setting on one side, tree on the other side)

The thought process behind my project was to make those viewing it as uncomfortable as possible. It’s supposed to give that uneasy feeling of realizing that gun laws are protected more than the children living in the United States. Many preach about being pro-life but when it comes to strict gun laws they go against it and say, “Well we have the right to bear arms…it’s my second amendment right…” There have been 380 school shootings since the Columbine shooting.

The artists all created scenarios that represented how gun violence impacts them and their communities. 

Read what MS wrote in her artist statement:

My hope was to shock people using the gun as the desktop, to not only make them think about how easily a gun can get in school but also how it is something we students think and worry about daily too. I placed the desk in a “heaven-like” setting and listed just a few of the names of people who have senselessly lost their lives to gun violence and left empty seats behind. 

Here are some scenes from the original project that was interrupted by COVID:

Here was one of the original blog posts that explained the initial project that has evolved over time: 

The Relentless School Nurse – #NoMoreEmptyDesks: Art + Activism = Artivism!


1 thought on “The Relentless School Nurse: Art & Activism Are Powerful Partners in Illustrating the Impact of Gun Violence on Our Students”

  1. And ARTIVISM = LOVE. What a project! I hesitate to even call it a project, it is a mission and hats off to Lisa and her students! Keeping things real, relevant, powerful. With intention, “The thought process behind my project was to make those viewing it as uncomfortable as possible”. Brave kids, brave teacher. Thank you!

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