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Courtesy of ctj71081/Flickr
Courtesy of ctj71081/Flickr

An Art Strike On Inauguration Day: Yea Or Nay?

Picture of Rachel Gould
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 20 January 2017
January 20th, 2017: Donald Trump will officially take office as the 45th president of the United States. #J20 is a proposed “act of non-compliance” calling for all American cultural institutions to close their doors and take to the streets in collective protest on Inauguration Day.

Above is an arresting call-to-action for the closure of all American cultural institutions on Inauguration Day. The strike, which is confirmed, will be carried out in conjunction with a general strike that will close schools and businesses.

The dissonant state of contemporary society is a red-hot topic in the art world of late, as impactful works responding to political discord and human rights violations are front and center in exhibition spaces. But should the art world’s political involvement end at depictions of anger? Is it time to turn toward good old-fashioned activism?

Well over 100 industry insiders have now reported their participation in the #J20 Art Strike. For some institutions, this will take the form of locked doors. Smack Mellon, a non-profit arts organization in Brooklyn, released the following statement to Hyperallergic: “For twenty years, Smack Mellon has been committed to hosting and collaborating with under-represented voices. Leading up to our participation in the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, January 21st, and in solidarity with #J20ArtStrike and other movements across the country, we will be closed on Friday, January 20th. We will take this day to reflect on our public accountability and the role cultural institutions play in our democracy.”

Others are protesting Trump’s inauguration by actively staying open on January 20th. The Guggenheim Museum in New York City released a statement saying, “We believe that museums can and should be a place of reflection and inspiration for all people, and we hope that our visitors will find welcome in a place where they can feel included in a great common cause — art and its transformative effects.” The Broad in Los Angeles will also remain open in honor of their “ongoing commitment to honoring the multiplicity of voices and perspectives that make The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the United States so deeply rich.”

Then there are institutions choosing to protest creatively. The Brooklyn Museum will host a marathon reading of Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes, while the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago will host a special artist and activist-run event on self-care techniques.

Since the strike was announced, industry figures have come down on both sides of the fence. Their arguments, however disparate, are valid and well-supported. Critics who spoke out against the strike have done so on the basis that it’s an ineffective means of ushering change, reprimanding this self-congratulatory industry for losing sight of its “utter irrelevancy within American culture” (part of a Facebook post by the artist Daniel Keller on January 8th).

Those in favor of the strike argue that it’s a positive gesture toward solidarity. The hope is that #J20 will help to build and strengthen the art community from the inside out.

The mere call for an art strike alone has forced the industry to confront art’s place in society, from where it is now to where it should be in the future. While the effects (or consequences) of the strike itself remain to be seen, the proposal has sparked a heated but meaningful discourse – an essential step for a left-wing industry that’s simultaneously at the mercy of the top-tier elite.

The “power” fought on Inauguration Day is the same “power” that keeps it in business, and this is a hard fact that the art world must face.