Local artist hopes to address stigma with art and film collaboration
By Joyell Nevins
In 1989, the artistic movement Visual AIDS organized the very first Day With(out) Art, a day of “mourning and action,” in response to the AIDS crisis in New York City.
The event, which is held every year on Dec. 1 (World AIDS Day), has since spread to more than 100 different venues around the world. And on Dec. 2, San Diego will host its own inaugural Day With(out) Art at the Media Arts Center in North Park.
Bringing the event to San Diego was made possible thanks to the efforts of The Studio Door, funding from POZabilities, and through additional support of FilmOut San Diego, the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation, the Archive Project and the Escondido Arts Partnership.
“During the start of the AIDS crisis, we saw community coming together; but AIDS isn’t over, unfortunately, and there’s still a lot of stigma behind the illness,” said Patric Stillman, founder of The Studio Door and co-coordinator of San Diego’s Day With(out) Art.
Stillman knows all about that stigma. He was diagnosed HIV-positive 12 years ago. No, this does not mean he has AIDS. It means that he has the HIV virus in his system. According to the National AIDS Trust, a person is considered to have developed AIDS when the immune system is so weak it can no longer fight off a range of diseases of which it would normally cope.
For Stillman, the diagnosis came at a time when he was in a “very dark patch.” His mother passed away and his best friend committed suicide in the same year, and the double blow was too much.
“I didn’t care about respecting myself,” Stillman said. “I was careless.”
He landed in the hospital for several reasons, spent five days hovering near death, and “remarkably” came out on the side of recovery.
“I see it as having a second chance,” Stillman continued. “I decided to stop carrying all these things on my back, all my self-doubt. I wanted to take this opportunity to live my life more fully.”
He dove into the artistic world and started collaborating with other San Diego artists. The Studio Door, which Stillman opened in North Park in 2014, came out of a desire to surround himself with art and help other artists reach their dreams as well.
Through his networking, Stillman met Patrick Brown, his co-coordinator of the Day With(out) Art, who first got him connected to Visual AIDS. Visual AIDS is a national collective dedicated to fighting AIDS and provoking dialogue, along with supporting HIV-positive artists. Its program director is Alex Fialho, a former San Diegan.
Last June, Fialho agreed to jury “Proud,” a visual arts exhibition at The Studio Door that celebrated LGBTQIA artists in honor of the Stonewall Riots.
From that connection, Stillman learned of a documentary titled “Alternative Endings, Radical Beginnings” that Visual AIDS was screening during its Day With(out) Art this year.
The film is a collection of videos from African-American artists Mykki Blanco, Cheryl Dunye and Ellen Spiro, Reina Gossett, Thomas Allen Harris, Kia LaBeija, Tiona Nekkia McClodden and Brontez Purnell. According to Visual AIDS, the film is meant to “prioritize black narratives within the ongoing AIDS epidemic.”
Now get ready for some disturbing statistics: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a study earlier this year reporting that in 2015, approximately 17,670 African-Americans received a diagnosis of HIV infection — almost half of all those diagnosed in the U.S.
The study also noted that black, gay and bisexual men are the most affected by HIV. If current rates persist, the CDC projects that approximately 1 in 20 black men, 1 in 48 black women, and 1 in 2 black gay and bisexual men will receive an HIV diagnosis during their lifetimes.
But the Day With(out) Art event, while not ignoring these stark facts, lands in a place of hope. It has been a collaborative effort, not only on a national level, but locally as well.
“It’s a big deal. I’m real excited to help bring this to San Diego,” Stillman said, extending gratitude to all those involved. “I’m amazed that we were able to get so many people on board so quickly, and I hope this can be an annual collaboration.”
The event is being held in conjunction with the benefit art sale, “Postcards from the Edge.” Also started in New York City, Visual AIDS is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its annual “Postcards” fundraiser this year.
For the San Diego edition, artists from across the region have created postcards telling stories of how AIDS has affected their lives. The local postcards are on display and available for purchase at The Studio Door, Escondido Arts Partnership, and the Media Arts Center.
The postcards are $75 each: $25 goes to support the film screening, $25 goes to Visual AIDS, and $25 will become part of a grant to help fund a local HIV-positive artist or organization that works in that field, as chosen by The Studio Door and Escondido Arts Project.
The screening of “Alternative Endings, Radical Beginnings,” will be held at 6 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Media Arts Center, located in the Digital Gym at 2921 El Cajon Blvd.
The Postcards from the Edge sale will run through the end of the year. For more information, visit thestudiodoor.com or call 619-255-4920.