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It may feel as though we’ve experienced a decade’s worth of political scandals since he took office, it hasn’t quite been a year since Donald Trump became president. To mark the anniversary of his inauguration on Saturday, a group that formed in reaction to one of his very first hateful decrees — the travel ban targeting citizens of majority-Muslim nations — is organizing a day of pointed artistic activity.
Art Action Day, happening January 20 in various guises at locations across the country, was created by the Federation, a group formed by the artist Laurie Anderson and producers Laura Michalchyshyn and Tanya Selvaratnam. They have enlisted organizations, institutions, and artists to make work or host events and programs in support of keeping borders open and opposing the slashing of arts funding. In addition to artists Mara Hoffman, Carrie Mae Weems, Anicka Yi, Glenn Ligon, Joan Jonas, Mickalene Thomas, Jose Parla, and others, organizations and spaces including the Public Theater, the Kitchen, PEN America, New York Live Arts, and the Brooklyn Public Library will be taking part.
The lineup of Art Action Day events is very eclectic, from a roundtable conversation about the role of spectacle in art and politics at Redline Contemporary Arts Center in Denver to a night of feminist performance art at Freeform Art Space in Santa Fe. In New York, one of the day’s main events will be a reading on the steps of the New York Public Library’s Schwartzman Building at sunset featuring Justin Vivian Bond, Anne Carson, Tina Chang, and many more.
“The vision is beautiful artistic chaos,” Michalchyshyn told Hyperallergic. “The idea is that not only does art unite us, but that art can facilitate positive change and community-building. We all know that, and in many, many cases, artists have come together to represent understanding, acceptance, and growth, and that’s what Art Action Day is for me particularly and I think for our collective, which is ever-evolving and growing.” Indeed, the roster of participating organizations and related events continues to expand, from independently organized events that are aligning themselves with Art Action Day to activities and actions organized expressly by members of the Federation.
“Most of the actions are free for anyone to attend,” Selvaratnam told Hyperallergic. “There’s also a range of events for people to engage with so that, if they want to be in a big crowd, they can go to the New York Public Library, if they want to be in a small group of people they can go to a see an exhibition at a gallery, they can go to a performance in a theater, so it’s really so that people feel free on that day to do what they want.”
Art Action Day was conceived specifically in contrast to last year’s #J20 art strike, when artists, arts workers, and arts institutions all over the country went on strike on inauguration day to protest the incoming administration. “There are times when silence is a statement but there are other times when silence is simply silence,” Selvaratnam said. “We need to be communicating with each other, especially at times when there’s going to be a lot of anxiety and anger, we want to give people outlets for that, and the arts are a great way to do that.” Though it should be mentioned that last year’s #J20 never claimed to be about silence, which appears to be what this year’s organizers are claiming, as many of the signatories participated in a Whitney Museum event and numerous other events across the country on the same day.
In developing what became Art Action Day, the members of the Federation contemplated a more pointed or explicitly political action, but opted instead for a multifarious and malleable form of manifestation. “We thought, ‘oh, should we have a march, should we have a gathering’,” Michalchyshyn recalled. “And Laurie said, ‘Let everybody do what they want,’ whether they’re singing in a park, keeping their library or public institution open for 24 hours or until midnight that day, or if you’re a theater group putting on a performance and maybe making it free to the community. Whatever it is, we hope people gather and do whatever feels right; whether it’s 20 minutes, a half-hour, multiple hours, a minute, it will all resonate as a collective.”