Saturday marks the second annual "Day Without Art" at cultural institutions across the country, but organizer Tom Sokolowski can't say he's pleased with the event's growth. "Last year we were a total grass-roots organization," says Sokolowski, who came up with the idea to increase AIDS awareness and to commemorate its victims in art galleries and performance spaces. "But this year we received a little bit of money ... so we established a small office and hired a project director. And we've got about 1,200 institutions participating, up from 600 last year." But Sokolowski, director of the Gray Art Gallery at New York University, says the increase in participants brings with it a somber message: AIDS is still an uncurable disease that affects the arts community particularly. "Unfortunately it looks like it will become a permanent event because it will need to be," he says.
Visual AIDS, the nonprofit group organizing the activities, requests only that art institutions recognize the day with some type of statement, activity or gesture, such as dimming the lights over certain paintings or closing off a section of a gallery. There are no other guidelines. "What we decided is, basically, we're all creative individuals," he says. "And we felt artists could speak to people differently than statistics would."
Locally, the Smithsonian Institution plans to observe the event at two of its museums. At the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, lights in the third-floor galleries will be dimmed and a sign will be displayed to explain why. At the National Portrait Gallery, a sign will be posted in the lobby with the title "A Sense of Loss" followed by a list of people in the arts profession who have died of AIDS.
At the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Galleries 1, 14 and 21 will be dark and all proceeds from its donation boxes will be given to AIDS service organizations.
At the Washington Project for the Arts, closed Saturday for an installation, windows will be shrouded in black; people are asked to leave offerings at the "Day of the Dead" altar, which was installed last month. WPA will also be playing a six-hour videotape compilation about AIDS issues at 11 a.m. in the bookstore.
Sprocket Productions, a local performance art group, is presenting a show of works on AIDS issues at the Astraea book gallery at 6 p.m.
The Arlington Arts Center is commemorating the day with a continuous screening of "Every Eighteen Minutes," a half-hour project by Todd Clark, a local "video activist." The screenings run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The center also is showing the exhibit "OUTCRY: Artists Answer AIDS," on display until Jan. 12.
"Arts since the beginning of time have spoken about the situation in which mankind finds himself," says Sokolowski. "Often it takes a look at things we don't want to see. Some take an activist mode, others are making works that are just symbolic. There's not one type of thing, rather a number of ways that we're all responding."
Jewish Film Festival Local filmmaker Aviva Kempner will go far and wide for a good Jewish film festival. She calls the one held in San Francisco each year "the role model" for film festivals addressing Jewish issues. She went to Moscow for one last year and returned last week from one in Australia. Enough is enough, Kempner decided. All that time in the air convinced her that it was Washington's turn.
"The feeling was, if we can do it in Moscow, we can do it here," says Kempner, artistic director of the first Washington Jewish Film Festival, which presents eight films from around the world starting Saturday at the Biograph. The festival is being presented by the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, the newspaper Washington Jewish Week and the Israeli Embassy.
The opening night film is "Nasty Girl," Michael Verhoeven's based-on-fact account of a Bavarian schoolgirl who runs into trouble when she tries to write an essay about what her town was like during the Nazi reign. Verhoeven and Anja Elisabeth Rosmus, the subject of the story, will be present.
Each film during the festival will conclude with a panel discussion. "We're making a concentrated effort to make people see films they wouldn't normally see, films that provoke thought that DCJCC is committed to," says Kempner ("Nasty Girl" opens nationwide on Dec. 7, however). "And we never just present a film without some kind of discussion."
For more information on the festival call 202-775-1765.