This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration. It also marks the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March his election inspired, the largest single-day protest in the nation’s history.
To memorialize the occasion, artists across the country are taking part in the first Art Action Day, a patchwork of public events, workshops and performances happening across the US. Hoping to reclaim the day for artistic expression, the initiative is being promoted under the slogan “Art is Essential to Democracy.”
The nationwide initiative is the brainchild of The Federation, a volunteer-run arts organization spearheaded by artist Laurie Anderson and producers Tanya Selvaratnam and Laura Michalchyshyn. Formed in direct response to Trump’s executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, the group began as a series of informal monthly meet-ups. But it has quickly mobilized into an organized network of creatives, which includes artists Shirin Neshat, Glenn Ligon and Anicka Yi.
Since announcing the launch of Art Action Day in October, organizers have attracted interest from dozens of arts institutions across the country. The coalition claims to have the support of a number of big companies, including Tumblr and Spotify, some of whom have offered pro bono services or are involved in The Federation’s steering committee.
A ‘beautiful chaos’
In addition to coordinating events in cities across the US, Art Action Day organizers encouraged members of the public to host their own pop-up events, discussions and performances by making a free DIY toolkit available online.
This format was partly framed as a rebuttal to last year’s controversial #J20 Art Strike, which called for the closure of museums, schools and galleries in protest against the new administration, according to Tanya Selvaratnam, a co-founder of The Federation.
“We want artists to be louder and more visible than ever, not silent,” she said in a phone interview. “So we decided that we would do the opposite (of #J20). We’re focused on providing people with tools, resources and inspiration, and letting them run with it.
“We’re not looking for everybody to say, do or wear the same thing. In fact, quite the opposite – we want it to be chaotic and myriad and pluralistic, because we’re artists. It’s a beautiful chaos.”
Among the scheduled events is a sing-along workshop in New York’s East Village led by the musician MILCK, whose song “Quiet” became a surprise viral hit and the unofficial anthem of the Women’s March on Washington. Nearby, in Midtown, the literary and human rights organization PEN America will present a series of public readings and art installations hosted by the poet and longtime activist Anne Waldman.
Over at Untitled Space in Tribeca, the show “One Year of Resistance” features new works by more than 80 artists reflecting a variety of genders, ages, backgrounds and political concerns.
“I don’t think it matters if you are male or female or non-binary, 16 years old or 70,” the gallery’s director, Indira Cesarine, said in an email. “We are all affected right now by Trump’s divisive politics.”
For ‘anyone and everyone’
But while many of the events are taking place in New York, there are others happening across the country. In Los Angeles, conceptual artist and photographer Hank Willis Thomas – who co-founded For Freedoms, the first artist-run super PAC – has co-curated “Into Action!”, a pop-up exhibition featuring works by 150 artists in response to the current political climate.
“I think the past 14 months have (put) issues that had been bubbling under the surface – things that may have previously been dismissed as marginal or trivial – front and center in the minds of many more people than ever before,” Thomas said in a phone interview. “It’s exciting, and it’s a time in which we know that who we are, what we do, and how we do matters.”
Anderson, Selvaratnam, and Michalchyshyn will all be on the ground tomorrow, making the rounds to events across San Francisco, Park City and New York City, respectively.
“The goal is to have anyone and everyone, whether you’re an artist, a cultural group, media entity or an individual who just wants to acknowledge that art not only unites us, but has impact,” Michalchyshyn said in a phone interview. “Art can make change and bring people together in ways that can be sublime and kind of extraordinary.”