“Our first speaker received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She probably received the last one ever, thanks to Trump.” Those were moderator Michael Reynolds’s opening remarks at NYC’s New Literature from Europe Festival on December 7, 2016. He chuckled at his own joke, but none of the artists in the audience laughed.
Because of Donald Trump, the Republican Congress, and the very real possibility of a Republican Supreme Court, Brooklyn’s arts community is in a newly perilous position. Trump has proven himself to be a big fan of censorship. He’s talked of restricting funding to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). He’s threatened to pass tighter immigration laws, which will make it more difficult for international artists to get visas. But arts organizations in Brooklyn are already preparing themselves for whatever budget cuts, censorship legislation, and crippling policies the Trump administration will throw their way.
They are prioritizing anti-Trump art to encourage artists to continue speaking up.
Living Gallery proudly calls itself “a creative gallery for local artists and teachers to share their artwork.” Located in a paint-splashed garage-like building, the Gallery frequently hosts art classes and exhibitions.
The founders of the Gallery believe the best way to prepare for Trump’s presidency is to refuse to accept it quietly and to protest every step of the way. They have turned their event spaces into a safe haven for artists who are taking a stand.
On December 6, 2016, the Gallery hosted an art show called “Artists Respond to Trump,” led by Bushwick artist Anna Kosovsky. “I intend this to be a healing evening of community as we use our creative powers to process and express how we feel and are being affected by Washington,” says Kosovsky on the event page. The show’s theme was transcendence.
They are hosting bystander intervention training to help artists protect each other.
Silent Barn is a Bushwick-based artist’s collective of “makers, organizers and curators.” They believe that the most important part of sustaining the arts is to give their members the tools to keep each other safe.
In December, Silent Barn began to host interactive bystander intervention trainings to teach their members how to de-escalate unsafe situations verbally and nonverbally, how to perform self-defense and how to employ the “4 Ds of Bystander Intervention”: direct, distract, delay, and delegate.
During the training, Silent Barn also taught participants about community-organizing tactics that they can use to protest unfair legislation.
They are reminding artists that it is okay to laugh during the next four years.
Some organizations are planning events specifically to raise morale at the time when it seems darkest: Inauguration Day.
Exactly one week before the inauguration, on Friday, January 13, Experiment Comedy Gallery is hosting a 31-hour comedy marathon simply called Fuck Donald Trump. The show is Trump’s worst nightmare: dozens of queer, female, transgender, non-white, and Muslim comics will grab a microphone in order to literally laugh in the face of Trump’s administration.
“We aim to fuck with the incoming fascist regime of Donald J. Trump,” says the comedy club’s founder, Mo Fathelbab, in a recent interview. “We’re in a weird, bad place. The idea is that we can use art to fight this, something that Donald Trump is not a big fan of.”
They have also instituted a Donald Trump Special at all times, waiving the cover charge to anyone who can prove they’re Muslim.
They are organizing community conversations about art.
The NYC Creative Salon, a Brooklyn-based organization that focuses on uniting professional artists, has hosted discussions about how artists can support each other and resist censorship in Trump’s America.
The first talk, which took place on December 5, was called “Fighting History: Post-Election Brainstorming.” Moderated by Huffington Post writer Isa Freeling, this discussion facilitated “a critical reflection on what is the future of the arts in sociopolitical climate” and “asked questions about the future of contemporary art and curatorial practice.”
These discussions are critical because they allow artists a space to express their fears, collaborate on protest art, and learn how to mobilize.
They are encouraging people to volunteer time and money so that they don’t have to rely on grants.
Trump was silent on the arts during his campaign, but previous comments suggest the possibility of massive federal funding cuts to programs such as NEA that allow “obscene” art. In Trump’s mind, obscene presumably means art that he just doesn’t like.
As a precaution, Brooklyn arts organizations are looking to donors and volunteers to sustain them where the federal government may not. The country will need art more than ever during the next four years, and organizations can only survive with community support.
If you’re interested in giving time or money, check out Arts in Bushwick, an all-volunteer organization that hosts art classes, sign-building protest workshops, social gatherings, and an arts and culture festival. Or consider donating to BRIC, an incubator and programming space for diverse artists; work by BRIC artists reaches hundreds of thousands of people each year.
Trump may try to slash funding or censor work, but Brooklyn artists cannot be silenced.