An International Day of Action and Mourning in Response to the AIDS Crisis 

December 1st

In 1989 in response to the worsening AIDS crisis and coinciding with the World Health Organization’s second annual World AIDS Day on December 1, Visual AIDS organized the first Day Without Art. A Visual AIDS committee of art workers (curators, writers, and art professionals) sent out a call for “mourning and action in response to the AIDS crisis” that would celebrate the lives and achievements of lost colleagues and friends; encourage caring for all people with AIDS; educating diverse publics about HIV infection; and finding a cure. More than 800 arts organizations, museums and galleries throughout the U.S. participated by shrouding artworks and replacing them with information about HIV and safer sex, locking their doors or dimming their lights, and producing exhibitions, programs, readings, memorials, rituals, and performances. Visual AIDS coordinated this network mega-event by producing a poster and handling promotion and press relations.

During the early nineties, as artists became more intimately involved with the group, Visual AIDS initiated numerous projects that included: A Night Without Light (the dimming of the New York skylight); the Electric Blanket (a nationwide outdoor slide projection with text and images); Positive Actions (an exhibition-competition for a television PSA held simultaneously in three NYC venues); the Broadside Project (distribution of copyright-free text and images by well-known artists targeted to specific audiences); and ambitious media collaborations, including AIDS Timeline by Group Material and national televised events.  Artists created many of the most moving actions, including Robert Farber's Every Ten Minutes.  By the mid-90’s, Day Without Art attracted more than 8000 participants throughout the world.

In 1998, for its 10th anniversary, Day Without Art became Day With(out) Art. Visual AIDS added the parentheses to highlight the ongoing inclusion of art projects focused on the AIDS pandemic, and to encourage programming of artists living with HIV.

Since 2010, Visual AIDS has worked with artists and film makes to internationally distribute videos to museums, art institutions, schools and AIDS organizations.  To mark the 25th anniversary of Day With(out) Art in 2014, Visual AIDS distributed Alternate Endings, a program of commissioned videos by seven artists and collectives that was screened internationally and is available online to share widely.

For more history and writing on Day With(out) Art - see the "Articles" tab above.

Also see above for "Suggested Activities"for your next Day With(out) Art event.

Suggestions: Day With(out) Art/AIDS Awareness

Video Screenings -- Host a movie or video screening, such as United In Anger: A History of ACT UP, We Were Here, How to Survive a Plague, Vito, Tongues Untied, or Last Address among others. Discuss the films afterwards. Curate your own short film series on youtube.

Exhibitions -- Organize an exhibition of artwork by an artist(s) living with HIV/AIDS or artwork related to current issues around HIV/AIDS to raise awareness. Exhibitions can be an open call for artwork or curated with a specific theme in mind. Visit our Artist Registry to see samples of work, or contact your local AIDS service organizations and ask if they have an artist workshops and if any of their members would be interested in participating. Be sure to consider how and where the artwork will be shown. If budget and security of the artwork is an issue, consider exhibiting posters, projecting slide or digital image, your host a "condom art" show, where participants decorate condom packages with paint, glitter, stickers, etc -- as a way to discuss safer sex practices.

Artist's Talk or Workshop -- Invite an artist living with HIV/AIDS to speak or lead a workshop at your school, gallery, or art center. Artist can speak about his/her artwork, present slides or host a workshop. Visit our Artist Registry for examples of artwork and contact info or contact Visual AIDS for suggestions on artists in your area.

Posters & Graphics -- Design a posters or a banner for display or distribution. Posters can be created by individual artists or by groups in a classroom or workshop. Large posters can be displayed outdoors, in public place, or in galleries, hallways, AIDS service organizations, schools, etc. Smaller posters can be photocopied and distributed widely. Posters can be designed as a graphic design project or artist workshop. T-shirts, sticker or other items can also be designed, worn and shared. For examples of AIDS posters and graphics, see Gran Fury, Poster Virus, The Stigma Project, Visual AIDS Print+, Graphic Intervention.

Red Ribbon Bee -- Create a ribbon bee, were people can gather to cut, fold and make red ribbon pins to wear and share. Ribbon bees are also a great format to share information about HIV, open dialogs around sex education, HIV criminalization, access to health care, PEP & PrEP, testing, disclosure, and the global AIDS crisis. Click here for more info on how to create your own ribbon bee.

Social Media -- Create an online campaign for Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, etc. Create your own AIDS awareness meme, and ask your friend to post and share.

School / Classroom -- Discuss the work and lives of HIV+ artists, writers, musicians, performers, and activists. Remember those that have died of AIDS, and discuss what work or issues they would be working on today. Create assignments or projects that encourage researching individuals along with current demographic information about HIV/AIDS.

Action -- Plan an action/observance in your workplace, classroom, or neighborhood specific to your community. you can organize a Ribbon Bee and distribute Red Ribbons with current HIV statistics; Organize a clothing or food drive for your local AIDS service organization; Start an AIDS fundraiser for your local AIDS Service Organization (bake sale, art auction, or even a small dinner party); Organize a rally, candlelight vigil or moment of silence; Post flyer or poster in your neighborhood to raise awareness; Create a names memorial wall; Contact your local politician and let them know you support more AIDS related funding and services; Set up a special display of books and resource materials about HIV/AIDS at your local library; Encourage HIV testing; Distribute free condoms; Volunteer or make a donation to your local AIDS service organization.

Articles and writing on Day Without Art

SCENE & HEARD: Day Without Art
Village Voice, Robert Atkins, December 1989

A Day Without Art
ARTS magazine, Robert Atkins, May 1990, p 62

How to Have Art (Events) in an Epidemic: A History of Visual AIDS from Day Without Art to the Red Ribbon
Address delivered at SAIC by Robert Atkins on December 1, 1992

The Unfashionability of AIDS
Interview with Thomas Sokolowski

Additional Bibliography

The New York Times

Artists Offer "Day Without Art" to Focus on AIDS
The New York Times, Andrew Yarrow, December 2, 1989

With Art and Without, a Day for Calling Attention to the AIDS Crisis
The New York Times, Eleanor Blau, November 30, 1990

AIDS AND ART: A history of a disease and the arts campaign to stop it
Carnegie Online, Jane-Ellen Robinet, 2005

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