For a weekend, Washington's National Mall became an open mass grave to raise awareness of genocide.
On 200,000 square feet of grass in front of the U.S. Capitol, 1 million artistic renderings of human bones were arranged to bring awareness to the victims of genocide. The stirring art installation and logistical triumph was the culmination of four years of work.
Thousands came together to lay 130,000 pounds of handmade bones at the U.S. Capitol.
The idea for the One Million Bones project began when New Mexico-based artist Naomi Natale read a book about the 1994 mass atrocities in Rwanda.
"It's inconceivable to me on so many levels that what occurred in Rwanda 20 years ago is happening again today in other African countries," Natale says. "I wondered, if we could actually see a mass grave, would that inspire us to take action?"
Working with the Bezos Family Foundation, CARE and many other groups, Natale began to turn her vision into a reality by asking students, artists and community groups to make bones that would be used in a visual petition against genocide. While the bones were being created out of materials such as clay, paper pulp and plaster, the next order of business was figuring out how to transport them to Washington, D.C.
Planning and preparation
Even by UPS standards, ensuring that 1 million delicate, handcrafted bones arrived at the National Mall on the same day from locations as far north as Juneau, Alaska, and as far south as Tijuana, Mexico, presented a big logistical challenge.
"I quickly realized that this wasn't just a logistics project," says Randy Leach, a customer solutions manager, who headed the project for UPS. "It was about people's hearts and passions – people who truly wanted to make a difference in the world."
Transporting 130,000 pounds of bones to Washington required the combined expertise of UPS people all over the country. Armed with boxes, pallets and shrink-wrap, they helped package the bones. The palletized shipments then traveled through the UPS Freight®LTL (less-than-truckload) network to the UPS Service Center in Washington, D.C., where manager Rob Stevens and his staff handled the final leg to the National Mall.
Before sunrise on Thursday, June 6, the first of 11 UPS Freight trailers were "dropped" along the Mall. By the end of the day, more than 200 pallets had been unloaded and placed, despite torrential rains. On Friday morning, the remaining pallets were unloaded.
"It was like a ballet," says Sandy Adkins, a public relations manager for UPS Freight, who helped document UPS's involvement. "One trailer would arrive as another would depart. It was a beautiful, fluid movement of trailers, forklifts, boxes – and people working incredibly hard all day long."
Installing the exhibit – and packing it up
On Saturday, June 8, the sun came out, and some 2,000 volunteers began placing the bones on the lawn. Among those volunteers was Laura Lane, president of UPS Global Public Affairs, who was stationed in Rwanda with the U.S. Foreign Service before, during and after the 1994 genocide. Only one person on Lane's staff survived the mass slaughter, despite tremendous efforts to save them.
"I lost a lot of personal friends and colleagues during that time," says Lane, who, along with her daughter, helped unload and collect empty boxes, but left before the laying of the bones. "It was just too emotional for me. ... I kept thinking of everyone we lost."
Dismantling the exhibit after the weekend proved to be an even greater challenge as UPS contended with more bad weather. But in two days, the bones were collected and repackaged, many heading to their final resting place at a permanent exhibit in New Mexico.
Natale estimates that, start to finish, 150,000 people were involved in the One Million Bones project and about 100,000 visited the exhibit. "I'm so proud to work for a company that cares enough to be part of this project. Our involvement is a larger statement about what UPS stands for as a company, and what we stand for as a nation."