Art Tackles Ugly Side of Golden Gate Bridge

Suicide exhibit opens Thursday

A reception will be held Thursday night to promote an art exhibit in San  Francisco's Presidio that consists of shoes meant to represent the hundreds  of lives lost to suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge.

The exhibit, titled "Whose Shoes?," aims to draw attention to the  number of suicides that occur on the bridge. Some of the shoes in the exhibit  belonged to suicide victims and were donated by family members; others are  not victims' shoes but were brought by volunteers for the project.

"What the exhibit does is dramatically represent the grief and  pain and shock of a suicide," said David Hull, president of the nonprofit  Bridge Rail Foundation.

The foundation was initially formed to advocate raising the rail  along the bridge's pedestrian access areas, but now focuses on public  education activities to prevent suicides.

Hull, whose daughter committed suicide by jumping from the Golden  Gate Bridge, said the impact of suicide "goes far beyond the person lost. It  impacts a number of people, and part of the function of the exhibit is to  represent that loss."

There have been more than 1,300 confirmed deaths, along with many  unconfirmed ones, since the bridge opened in 1937.

The Marin County coroner's office reported in January that at  least 34 people took their own lives in 2008 by jumping from the bridge.  David Foehner, an investigator with the coroner's office, said there have  been at least two more suicides already this year.

In October, the bridge district approved the installation of a net  below the bridge to prevent suicides.

The foundation put together a similar exhibit in Crissy Field in  September and participated in a walk called "Out of the Darkness" sponsored  by the Northern California chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide  Prevention.

Hull said that through the shoe exhibit and other outreach  efforts, he hopes that "the age-old misunderstanding of suicide as inevitable  is fading under new empirical data that proves that most suicides are, in  fact, preventable."

He cited a 1978 study by Richard Seiden of University of  California at Berkeley that found that since the bridge opened, of all the  people who had attempted suicide but were stopped or survived the fall from  the bridge, 94 percent were still alive or had died of natural causes.

The exhibit, which is free to the public, opened on Feb. 19 and  will remain until April 16, according to the foundation.

Thursday night's reception will take place at 7 p.m. at the Thoreau  Center for Sustainability at Presidio Building 1014 near the intersection of  Lincoln Boulevard and Torney Avenue.

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