This week Donald Trump will become president of the United States, and galleries, schools and other art institutions are being urged to close for the day in protest. Already over 130 artists and critics, including Cindy Sherman, Joan Jonas and Richard Serra, have committed to joining the J20 Art Strike and not working that day. The strike is being held in solidarity with other disruptions, such as the Women's March on Washington, but the move has quickly come under criticism.
Some have claimed, somewhat arrogantly, that an art strike is just as irrelevant as art itself is in America's current political climate. Others have noted that for those who may be searching for inspiration or solace on the day, a closed museum is a missed opportunity. The role of art is to challenge, inspire, comfort and provoke; removing it from society for a day is counterproductive. Why protest "the normalization of ... a toxic mix of white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, militarism, and oligarchic rule" with self-censorship?
Which leads us to the real issue. Removing one's presence for a day is a symbolic way of showing dissent. But it is well within the reach of members of the art community to go a step further in making their point, simply by reaching out instead of withdrawing. Create protest art. Waive entrance fees. Raise funds and awareness for institutions that might be under threat. Volunteer. Resist, reimagine... but don't disappear.
Regardless of its efficacy, the J20 Art Strike is a promising indication that American artists are ready and willing to unite and take political action. They will have four years ahead in which to perfect their technique.