With Pending Trump Inauguration, Artists and Cultural Institutions Prepare — and Protest

Email a Friend
The Ghostlight Project kicks off at 5:30 P.m. Jan. 19.

As president-elect Donald Trump prepares to be sworn in this Friday, protesters in New York City are planning to challenge his administration and policies through marches and demonstrations.

Among those participating are the artists who make up the city’s vast and diverse cultural world. Several hundred have called for an art strike on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017. The J20 Art Strike wants museums, galleries, theaters, nonprofits and schools to close for the day, saying that “business should not proceed as usual in any realm” in order “to combat the normalization of Trumpism."

WNYC’s Business and Culture Editor Charlie Herman and Jennifer Vanasco, WNYC’s theater critic, joined Jami Floyd, host of All Things Considered, to review the calls for an art strike and a new commitment to engagement from people in theater.

What are some institutions doing?

The galleries at the Queens Museum will be closed, but the building will be open to the community from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. for what it's calling “Sign of the Times” where visitors can make posters, buttons, signs and banners that they can use in marches or for other actions (materials will be provided free of charge).

“The Queens Museum has a particular relationship to what is happening in the world because of our physical location in Queens and as an institution that has long-term commitment to the immigrant community around the museum,” said Laura Raicovich, the museum’s director.

She added that the tone and rhetoric used during the presidential campaign made many in the community feel vulnerable. The museum wants to responds to that and reaffirm its commitment to immigrant rights and equality, she said.

The Whitney Museum of American Art will offer pay-what-you-wish on January 20. Special programs that day will “affirm our commitment to open dialogue, civic engagement and the diversity of American art and culture.” Events include guided tours and talks by artists organized by the arts collective Occupy Museums.

At the Brooklyn Museum, there will be a marathon reading of the Langston Hughes' poem "Let American Be America Again" from 11 a.m to 6 p.m. Every 30 minutes a different person will read the poem from 1935. 

Other institutions implementing a pay-what-you-wish policy include the New Museum, the Museum of Arts and Design (where an exhibit on climate change and coral reef destruction closes on Sunday) and the Rubin Museum of Art which will also host “Swear In, Breathe Out,” a yoga, meditation and live music event.

The Museum of the Moving Image will be free to the public and will be screening the recent film, "Loving," about Richard and Mildred Loving whose case before the Supreme Court led to the invalidation of laws banning interracial marriage.

The Grey Art Gallery at New York University will host "Hall of Issues 2017: New York #J20 Art Strike," a pop-up version of Phyllis Yampolsky's "Hall of Issues" first created in December 1961 where people could come and post political statements and/or visual art.

Several galleries, non-profits and other cultural institutions in NYC (and in other parts of the country) have said they will close on Jan. 20.

National Sawdust in Brooklyn will present "The Hillary Speeches" at noon, the same time Donald Trump takes the oath of office. This filmed concert performance sets two of Clinton's speeches — when she first announced she was running for President on January 7, 2007, and when she gave her concession speech on November 9, 2017 — to music. It features several classical music and Broadway performers. Seats are first come, first serve.

Over at MoMA PS1, artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman's will be in residency with their artist-run political action committee "For Freedoms" starting on January 20 and running through the first 100 days of Trump's presidency. (Hank Willis Thomas spoke to WNYC's Jami Floyd about this project last summer.)

How about the theater industry?

Theaters around the country have signed on to The Ghostlight Project. On Thursday, January 19, 2017, at 5:30 p.m. local time, theater schools, companies and organizations will gather to "shine a light in the darkness" in all 50 states. 

It's not just artists participating. Stage managers, ushers, electricians, dressers, and others crucial to the industry have all been asked to come and bring white lights.

What's a "ghostlight"? It's a light — usually a naked bulb in a cage — set center stage after the theater is dark, to keep people from accidentally falling into the orchestra pit or tripping over wires. Theater folks are a suspicious people, and the light is also said to appease the theater's resident ghost. 

In New York, the main Ghostlight "hubs" are downtown at the Public Theater; in Midtown at the red steps in Times Square; uptown at the National Black Theatre; and in Brooklyn at BAM and Bushwick Starr. But those are not the only organizations participating. Over 80 NYC theater companies are joining (including many from Broadway), some at one of the hubs, some at their own theaters.

What's unusual about the Ghostlight Project is it's not just a protest or a vigil. The organizers ask those who attend to make an additional commitment to engage with the community. They suggest "Service Mondays," a monthly or quarterly day of volunteering together at a community organization when theaters are usually dark; calling legislators using a phone tree; or forming a one-on-one relationship with a social justice nonprofit, listening to what organizers need, and donating time and money to them.

Those who founded the Ghostlight Project hope that it won't be a one-day event — instead, it will kick off more organizing.


Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional events happening in New York City.