World AIDS Day 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of Day With(out) Art, first organized by Visual AIDS in 1989. The New York City–based nonprofit, dedicated to uniting HIV activism and art, is honoring this day of memory and action by coordinating over 100 screenings worldwide of Still Beginning, a program of seven short videos in response to the current state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Filmmakers Shanti Avirgan, Nguyen Tan Hoang, Carl George, Viva Ruiz, Iman Shervington, Jack Waters and Victor F.M. Torres, and Derrick Woods-Morrow each created films tackling subjects from anti-stigma to public sex culture, HIV activism pioneers, and intergenerational conversations about HIV.
Esther McGowan, executive director for Visual AIDS, recently spoke to me about the history of Day With(out) Art and the purpose and importance of Still Beginning.
"In 1989, Visual AIDS wanted to find a way to recognize the loss of the AIDS crisis in the art world," she said. "The idea was to reach out to museums and galleries and ask them to do something to represent loss." The response was everything from museums removing art to galleries closing their doors for the day. New York's Guggenheim Museum famously covered the entire museum in a black shroud. More than 800 institutions across the U.S. participated in that first Day Without Art.
By the mid-90s, Day Without Art spread to over 8,000 participating institutions. Over the years, Day With(out) Art has ignited groups worldwide to mark the day with exhibitions of artists living with HIV and commission works to both evoke memory of the AIDS crisis and call us to action in the continuing battle against HIV and the stigma surrounding those affected.
"What's happened over time is that the AIDS crisis has changed; it's continued to be a crisis, but in different ways," McGowan said. With the introduction of antiretrovirals in 1997 keeping many more people living with HIV alive, the importance of highlighting loss evolved as well. In 1998, Day Without Art became Day With(out) Art. "Visual AIDS adapted A Day With(out) Art," McGowan explained. "You can see, we added parentheses around the out in 'without,' because in a sense, it's actually A Day With Art now." This change highlighted the inclusion of HIV-related art projects and HIV-positive artists commemorating World AIDS Day.
Since 2010, Visual AIDS has collaborated with artists and filmmakers to create videos with HIV themes for Day With(out) Art. These videos have been distributed to museums, galleries, schools, and HIV service organizations worldwide. For the 25th anniversary in 2014, Visual AIDS commissioned Alternate Endings, with videos by seven filmmakers addressing the ongoing HIV pandemic. Every year since then, Visual AIDS has produced a video program for Day With(out) Art, distributing the video program to over 100 venues around the world.
This year's video work is titled, Still Beginning, after writer, artist, and activist Gregg Bordowitz's banners that hung at the Art Institute of Chicago earlier this year, which read, "The AIDS Crisis Is Still Beginning." As opposed to former years, when the works were curated for Visual AIDS, this year the organization put out an open call for filmmakers, and the seven works for Still Beginning were chosen by a panel of artists and members of the HIV community.
"We asked artists to make a film that somehow represented something they were thinking or feeling and wanted to share about HIV and AIDS in their lives," McGowan explained, "that they're either living with HIV or somehow in the larger community." The seven short films come together to create the one-hour program.
McGowan said that because the project is on video, that makes it easy for Visual AIDS to share the work with many venues across the country and the world. "What's exciting about this is not only that the subject matter is shared in very diverse ways, but also that once we have the file, we can just email it to people all around the world." Also, because the film is actually made up of seven short works, any organization can utilize the video in a myriad of ways. "It's very attractive to various types of organizations. A small AIDS service organization with no budget can just put it on their website, for example. Or [an organization] could play it in a loop in a gallery. They could show it in a big-screen theatre with a panel discussion." The video is also accompanied by a study guide, and all of it is free of charge to the organization.
"After 30 years," McGowan said, "we have a big spreadsheet of people, but we're always looking for new organizations to include. A Day With(out) Art is something that people really embrace."
This year, screenings for Still Beginning are scheduled for 24 states from New York to California, Wisconsin to Texas, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. International screenings will be seen in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. (For a complete list or to see if there's an event near you, click here).
If you're interested in screening this year's Day With(out) Art video program at your organization, please contact Kyle Croft, Visual AIDS programs manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no cost to participate.