A Day With(out) Art: Writing Until the Very End

Robert Massa covered the AIDS crisis from a personal perspective.


“Day Without Art,” to be held every December 1, was conceived in 1989 to coincide with the World Health Organization’s World AIDS Day. The AIDS crisis had devastated the creative community, and, as the activist organization Visual AIDS recounts on its website, “more than 800 arts organizations, museums, and galleries throughout the U.S. participated by shrouding artworks and replacing them with information about HIV and safer sex, locking their doors or dimming their lights, and producing exhibitions, programs, readings, memorials, rituals, and performances.”

On its 10th anniversary, the observance was changed to “Day With(out) Art,” to emphasize, as Visual AIDS put it, “the ongoing inclusion of art projects focused on the AIDS pandemic, and to encourage programming of artists living with HIV.” 

Robert Massa was a senior editor at the Voice who wrote extensively about AIDS. In the February 22, 1994, issue of the paper he teamed with artist Sue Coe for a poignant — and searing — portfolio, “Scenes From an AIDS Ward.”

AIDS took a fearsome toll, and it hit the Village Voice particularly hard in April 1994, when Massa succumbed to the disease. In a diary he kept of his struggles with his condition, he wrote, “My friend Carol had the presence of mind to ask me a key question right away: What am I doing with my time? My answer has been to do what I’ve always done. But, in fact, preparing to die, perhaps abruptly, while maintaining a positive attitude, whatever that means, is quite time-consuming.” 

An editor’s note at the end of Massa’s personal chronicle informed readers, “Shortly after he wrote these passages, Robert Massa became unable to write or type. By March, he was unable to use his facial muscles to speak. He died on April 9.” Below are those passages, along with memorial tributes from other writers at the paper.