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Arts groups plan thinly veiled protests against Trump inauguration

Try to guess the form of the pinata that will be whacked at the inauguration-night party at Creative Alliance.

Baltimore-area arts groups are planning activities for this week ranging from literary readings to a dance party that could be interpreted as thinly veiled protests against the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

None of the organizers are saying explicitly that events named "Nasty Women and Bad Hombres: Inauguration Night in Baltimore" (the title is a satirical allusion to phrases used by Trump during the campaign) or "Writers Resist Baltimore: Voices United!" are meant to rally Trump's opponents.

But it's not hard to read between the lines.

"Our event is not anti-Trump," said Carla Du Pree, the executive director of Baltimore's CityLit Project, which is organizing the Baltimore chapter of "Writers Resist," a reading of works by 18 local authors scheduled for Sunday in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

"We're working very hard to not even say the president-elect's name," Du Pree said.

"But with this new administration coming in, we know there's going to be changes. We're very concerned for our immigrant, Muslim and LGBT communities, and we're very concerned for the future of free expression. We're calling this a 're-inauguration' of our shared commitment to fundamental democratic ideals."

Similarly, a Stoop Storytelling Series has scheduled an open microphone session for the night before the inauguration. Participants will tell three-minute true stories "about standing up for someone or something," according to the event description.

"We wanted to use Stoop as a platform to do something meaningful at a time when a lot of people are feeling powerless," said the group's co-founder, Laura Wexler.

Her sentiment is being echoed nationwide as artists throughout the U.S. demonstrate their opposition to the incoming administration. One of the largest protests is PEN America's "Writers Resist" reading series that will take place in 84 cities in the U.S. and abroad — including in Annapolis and at the Baltimore event organized by CityLit.

The flagship reading in New York has attracted such A-list authors as Michael Cunningham, Meg Wolitzer and Rita Dove, and will culminate in a march to Trump Tower. Organizers have collected 152,000 signatures on a petition supporting the First Amendment, which they plan to present to the president-elect's transition team.

In Chicago, election opponents can attend "Artists Against Hate: Inauguration Protest Show." In Los Angeles, an artists' collective is creating a protest portrait made from human blood.

Baltimore's Spotlighters Theatre will participate in the Ghostlight Project in which an estimated 500 theaters from across the U.S. will turn on a light or illuminate a candle at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in their respective time zones as a pledge to protect the value of inclusiveness.

And the Baltimore Museum of Art is sponsoring several free inauguration day activities, including group readings of the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and other founding documents.

Protests aren't supposed to be subtle, and at least some of the events scheduled in Baltimore are planned in a similar, uh, vein.

For instance, the Nasty Women dance party at the Creative Alliance is being headlined by the Baltimore rapper and producer TT the Artist (born Tedra Wilson). It was TT in collaboration with Mighty Mark (Marquis Gasque) who released a video days before the election called "F Trump" that went viral.

"I'll definitely be opening or closing the show at the Creative Alliance with that song," Wilson said.

Nonetheless, Heather Keating, the Alliance's marketing and communications manager, said that the dance party "is meant to be hopeful and celebratory" and emphasized that it's open to people from across the political spectrum.

The event will raise funds for Artesanas Mexicanas, a group of Latina women who have partnered with the Alliance to pass along cultural traditions ranging from cooking native dishes to pinata making.

But Keating hinted that Trump fans might not be entirely comfortable with the event's climax, which involves breaking a specially decorated pinata.

Instead of the traditional candy, she said, the colorful container will be stuffed with slips of paper on which hopes for the future are written, which will rain down on attendees.

That certainly sounds innocent. But Keating worded what she said next with care: "A Trump supporter," she said, "might not be happy with the form or representation that our pinata takes."

In that case, it might be expected that the pinata-bludgeoning could rile members of Maryland's GOP.

After all, most arts groups (with occasional exceptions, such as the Stoop) receive public funds of some type. Aren't organizations supported by taxpayers supposed to remain neutral?

Dirk Haire, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party and Gov. Larry Hogan's campaign counsel, said the law distinguishes between political activity, which would be illegal for taxpayer-supported groups, and expressing opinions, which is not.

Though he disagrees with the arts groups' views, he said, "I support their right to exercise their First Amendment rights.

"I find it kind of amusing, actually," he added. "I'm pleased that they are completely focused on us while we are focused on improving quality of life for Marylanders. If they stay focused on us, we will continue to win."

Catherine J. Ross, an expert on the First Amendment and a professor of constitutional law at The George Washington University, said courts often define "political activity" as campaigning for or endorsing particular candidates.

In contrast, she said, advocacy for specific issues is protected under the First Amendment.

"It helps that these events weren't scheduled before the election," she said. "Donald Trump is about to be sworn in as president. His policies are on the table for public commentary."

Sculptor and Annapolis native Joseph Fischhaber (also known as the artist Joe Fish) has mixed feelings about the protests. No one believes more strongly in the First Amendment than he does.

But Fischhaber also is the founder of the Artists for Trump Coalition, which ran an online contest for visual artworks that supported the Republican candidate. The juried show received "dozens" of submissions nationwide, he said; the winning pieces can be seen at artistsfortrumpcoalition.com.

He can't help feeling that in the current liberal artistic climate, it's his voice that's in danger of going unheard.

"I think that it's unethical for artists not to be open to multiple perspectives," he said.

"Arts group aren't supposed to become the wing of one political party. If they're taking money from the government, they should embrace artists on both sides."

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

If you go

Writers Resist Baltimore: Voices United! 2 p.m. Sunday at the E.M.P. Collective, 307 W. Baltimore St. Free; suggested donation of $5-$10. Citylitproject.org.

Writers Resist: Annapolis Poetry Reading, 5 p.m. Sunday at the Annapolis Bookstore, 53 Maryland Ave., Annapolis. Free. annapolisbookstore.com

The Stoop's "Not Throwing Away Our Shot: Stories about Taking a Stand," 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave. $9-$15. stoopstorytelling.com.

Nasty Women and Bad Hombres: Inauguration Night in Baltimore, 8 p.m. Friday at the Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave. Free; suggested donation of $15. creativealliance.org.

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