The Hall of Ocean Life in the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

American Museum of Natural History Will No Longer Host Gala Honoring Jair Bolsonaro

New York’s American Museum of Natural History announced yesterday that it would no longer host the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce’s black-tie gala honoring Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro on May 14, as previously planned.

The museum faced swift backlash after it was reported last week that Bolsonaro would be honored at the chamber’s event—for which the organization rented the space—as one of two “persons of the year.” Past recipients of the annual award have included Michael Bloomberg and Bill Clinton; $30,000 tickets for the event sold out immediately.

“With mutual respect for the work and goals of our individual organizations, we have jointly agreed that the museum is not the optimal location for the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce gala dinner,” the museum and the organization said in a joint statement. “This traditional event will go forward at another location on the original date and time.”

Museum staff members, academics, scientists, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio were among those who condemned the decision to honor Bolsonaro, who has repealed environmental protections, stripped indigenous groups of political agency over native land, and aggressively campaigned for mining and deforestation.

De Blasio called Bolsonaro “a very dangerous human being . . . not just because of his overt racism and homophobia, but because he is unfortunately the person with the most ability to be able to impact what happens in the Amazon going forward.” Some members of the staff signed an open letter to museum president Ellen V. Futter and described the event as being “in direct conflict with the values of the museum.” 

Where the gala will take place is currently unknown; as of today, the chamber’s website still names the museum as the location and states that Bolsonaro is being recognized for “his strongly stated intention of fostering closer commercial and diplomatic ties between Brazil and the United States and his firm commitment to building a strong and durable partnership between the two nations.”

The museum also faced controversy last year, when scientists and activists pressured it to cut ties with board member and billionaire climate-change denier Rebekah Mercer, a benefactor of Breitbart and a significant patron of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Heartland Institute, which promotes forums for climate-change skeptics. Mercer remains on the board today; she has been a museum trustee since 2013 and has donated at least $4.1 million to the museum through her family’s foundation.