On Wednesday, thousands of cultural organizations will commemorate World AIDS Day by participating in a Day Without Art and a Night Without Light. The New York artist group Visual AIDS began the projects of "action and mourning" in response to AIDS and its effect on the arts community, and this year, it's caught the attention of the White House.

"We started Day Without Art in 1989 and Night Without Light in 1990," says Patrick O'Connell, "and this year we anticipate 5,300 institutions worldwide. For Night Without Light we've just heard that the White House will participate, turning off its floodlighting for 15 minutes, from 7:45 to 8 p.m." It will be the first time the White House has taken part in the event.

Says O'Connell: "I think it's astounding that an artists' project is embraced at all levels. Something this size is a way of truly involving the communities in the ongoing efforts of trying to meet the needs of all people with AIDS."

Most arts organizations won't close their doors during the Day Without Art but will use the occasion to educate patrons. "It gives institutions an opportunity to intervene in the art experience to provide lifesaving information," explains O'Connell.

The Night Without Light is a way to reach people not near museums or galleries, O'Connell says. "It's really growing. The U.S. Conference of Mayors is pushing for widespread participation by their municipal buildings, and that kind of support really emphasizes the importance of art in effecting change."

Jane Alexander, the new head of the National Endowment of the Arts, will participate in Day Without Art ceremonies at the Chicago Cultural Center and has issued a statement praising the event as reinforcing "the vitality and power art brings to our daily lives by showing how the absence of art leaves a void of spirit."

The U.S. Postal Service has chosen the day to issue its AIDS ribbon stamp, with ceremonies planned nationwide to honor its release. While O'Connell regrets that the government has not acknowledged that the Ribbon Project was created by Visual AIDS artists in spring 1991, he admits that there is an up side.

"It's a shame that the artists who have worked to heighten awareness of the needs of people with AIDS are being shut out of any participation in the ribbon stamp ceremonies," he says. "On the other hand, we're very pleased the ribbon has been so widely embraced."

Day Without Art events are being held by dozens of arts organizations around the city, including a candle-lighting ceremony and concert at the Anacostia Museum. Call Visual AIDS at 212-206-6758 for more details.

Artists, AIDS & Estates

The Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts and the Whitman-Walker Clinic are holding a free seminar tomorrow on estate planning for artists, sadly but realistically in conjunction with World AIDS Day.

Ann Garfinkle, a D.C. lawyer who specializes in arts law, will conduct the seminar. "Frequently, parents or siblings challenge the wills of people who have died of AIDS," says Garfinkle, "and I will emphasize preventive things people can do while they're alive to ensure their wishes be followed."

Garfinkle will sell materials from the Estate Project for Artists With AIDS, which was initiated by the Alliance for the Arts, a New York nonprofit organization directed by Patrick Moore.

Garfinkle's talk, a distillation of a three-hour presentation Garfinkle recently gave to the D.C. Bar Association, will be repeated in January for Artists Equity.

Wednesday, WALA is sponsoring another seminar on legal and business planning for artists. Call the group at 202-393-2826 for details on both talks.

Beat Bits

Jacob Kainen, whose retrospective is still up at the National Museum of American Art, will give an informal talk on his career tomorrow at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. Call 202-775-1765 ... Mara Mayor has been named director of the Smithsonian Associates after 10 years as director of the Annenberg/Corporation for Public Broadcasting. She will begin as head of the Smithsonian's membership and continuing education division in January ... The No. 2 man of France's state museum system, Jean-Pierre Mohen, is speaking (in French) at the Alliance Francaise on Thursday about the challenges facing museums in changing societies with diminishing resources. Call 202-234-7911 ... The Rep Inc. (formerly the D.C. Black Repertory Co.) is hosting a "Gathering of Friends" Friday night to raise its profile as well as funds. Call 202-399-4647 ... The Galleries of Dupont Circle hold their annual "Winter Festival" Friday night from 6 to 8, with exhibitions, refreshments and musicians at many of the 24 member galleries ... Washington Project for the Arts Executive Director Don Russell announced that the WPA grossed $125,000 at its recent fund-raising auction, $25,000 more than last year.