Day Without Arts logo.

"Day With(out) Art”: A Brief History at the Smithsonian

December 1 is the Day Without Art, coinciding with World AIDS Day. Join us as we explore how the Smithsonian has “celebrate[d] the lives and achievements of lost colleagues and friends.”

DAY Without Art

White stamp with red ribbon.

Since 1989, December 1 has been observed as Day Without Art, coinciding with World AIDS Day. It is a day where museums, galleries, artists, and art groups can come together and highlight the impact of HIV/AIDS and to “celebrate the lives and achievements of lost colleagues and friends.”

Examples of participation include the covering or temporary removal of artworks by artists who lost their lives to the virus, in addition to displays of educational information, performances, and other enriching programming.

Examples from Smithsonian Collections

Poster with large text on brown and black background.

Posters were largely used in the beginning to publicize both the events and messaging for the Day Without Art.  Several of these posters are now in the collection of the Cooper Hewitt,  the Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City.

You can also find the original press release and supporting manuscripts outlining the inaugural Day Without Art in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

DAY With(out) Art

Multi-color painting with white boarder.

You may have also noticed some parentheses occasionally popping up in more recent uses of the name.  To mark its 10th anniversary, the title was updated to Day With(out) Art to broaden its scope including artists living with HIV, as well as art projects focused on the subject.

This change is reflected in the title, A Day Without Art/A Day With Art, a blog post from the Smithsonian American Art museum remembering Carlos Alfonzo, a Cuban-born artist who died of AIDS in 1991.

World AIDS Day

White card with black type and a blue ink signature.

In addition to Day With(out) Art, the Smithsonian has observed World AIDS Day in a variety of ways throughout the years. The Hirshhorn has bathed the building in red lighting to raise awareness of the campaign.  The Smithsonian’s contribution to, and repeated displays of, the AIDS Memorial Quilt project has always been a point of pride as mentioned in this Smithsonian Magazine article from December 1, 2010.

Remembering Those Lost

In the spirit of a Day With(out) Art, I would like to end by highlighting a group of artists from the Ubuhle arts organization. The works from these South African artists were displayed as part of an exhibition in 2014 at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum titled, “UBUHLE WOMEN: Beadwork and the Art of Independence.” The accompanying resource notes at the time of its publication that “since 2006 the Ubuhle community has lost 5 artists to HIV/AIDS and other illnesses, nearly halving the number of active artists.”

Related Resources


SI GLOBE is an employee resource group for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender(LGBT) staff, interns, volunteers and allies of the Smithsonian Institution.

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