News

The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Photo: Lauren Cavalli.

Arts Professionals Demand MoMA Board Member Larry Fink Divest from Private Prisons

As the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York prepares to reopen on October 21 following a $450 million expansion project, more than 220 artists, curators, and academics have submitted a letter to the institution’s board and director, Glenn Lowry, decrying the institution’s ties to private prisons and mass incarceration.

The letter, which was circulated by the New Sanctuary Coalition, demands that the museum divest from Fidelity, which it uses for its pension funds, and that trustee Larry Fink, the CEO and chairman of the investment firm BlackRock, divest from “prison companies, the war machine, and the destruction of the global environment.” Both Fidelity and BlackRock hold shares in CoreCivic and the GEO Group, which build and manage detention centers across the United States. “With over $2 billion in contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), these companies have been responsible for 70 percent of all immigration detention including caged children and families separated at the border as well as in the interior,” the letter reads.

It continues: “Larry Fink has stated that he wants to hold companies accountable for being ‘responsible corporate citizens.’ This can be achieved by removing funds from prison slavery and supporting campaigns such as No New Jails’ push to close Rikers and block the promotion of new borough-based cages. MoMA has spent over half a billion dollars to remake its image and its building in midtown Manhattan. We suggest instead that funds be redistributed towards alternative models of well-being, community-based creativity, sanctuary, land restitution/defense for indigenous peoples, and the material improvement of dispossessed communities worldwide.”

The petition also calls out BlackRock’s investments in weapons manufacturers, fossil fuel, and agribusiness industries, and comes at a time when arts funding is being highly scrutinized. Advocacy groups have been waging a war against board members and arts patrons who artwash money made through businesses, or business practices, considered incompatible with museums’ missions, and which negatively affect the diverse communities these institutions claim to serve. Warren B. Kanders, the CEO of the defense company Safariland, stepped down from the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art in July after a fierce, months-long campaign to depose him. 

The letter’s signatories include Claire Bishop, Hal Foster, Andrea Fraser, Carolyn Lazard, and Constantina Zavitsanos. In addition to the letter, the New Sanctuary Coalition also issued a statement declaring that it is planning to stage a protest at MoMA on Friday, October 18, at 7 PM—the night of the opening party. Among the advocacy groups that have joined the petition are Art Space Sanctuary, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Decolonize This Place, and Veterans for Peace. The museum was not immediately able to respond; this article will be updated with their comment and as more information becomes available.

The petition can be found on the New Sanctuary Coalition’s website

The letter is republished in full below:

We denounce MoMA’s connections to mass incarceration, global dispossession and climate catastrophe, and demand that MoMA’s Board member Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, divest from prison companies, the war machine and the destruction of the global environment. Stopping the global cycles of dispossession, displacement and detention, and reinvesting in the basic necessities of food, shelter, health and freedom are the best ways to ensure that communities worldwide thrive.

MoMA Board member and CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink, is the 2nd largest shareholder of prison companies, GEO Group and Core Civic. With over $2 billion in contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.), these companies have been responsible for 70% of all immigration detention including caged children and families separated at the border as well as in the interior. MoMA’s own pension fund, Fidelity, is also one of the largest owners of these private prison companies. Prison companies are a part of the massive and racist state-sanctioned carceral system of the U.S., which has made the country the largest jailer in the world.

BlackRock also owns billions of dollars in shares of weapons manufacturers. The company has more money invested in the fossil fuel and agribusiness industries – the biggest drivers of climate change – than any other company in the world. Despite their severe threat to the planet, BlackRock continues to invest in tar sands, coal, Arctic oil, Amazon crude, and rainforest destruction.

We demand that MoMA board member Larry Fink begin by divesting all assets from GEO Group and Core Civic.

Divestment is possible. New York City’s pension fund has divested! Even JP Morgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo have agreed to cut loans to these companies. 

Larry Fink has stated that he wants to hold companies accountable for being “responsible corporate citizens.” This can be achieved by removing funds from prison slavery and supporting campaigns such as No New Jails’ push to close Rikers and block the promotion of new borough-based cages. MoMA has spent over half a billion dollars to remake its image and its building in midtown Manhattan. We suggest instead that funds be redistributed towards alternative models of well-being, community-based creativity, sanctuary, land restitution/defense for indigenous peoples, and the material improvement of dispossessed communities worldwide.

MoMA’s director Glenn Lowry has said that the renovations will help us “explore the ideas that shape our world and find inspiration in the art of our time.” Indeed, this is the time and these are the moments that define us as individuals and as a society. MoMA can choose to be defined by its silence over mass incarceration, climate change and global dispossession. We choose not to.

Again, we demand that Larry Fink and the MOMA board divest their funds from prison companies. We demand that Larry Fink & MoMA board members disclose any & all additional prison slavery-involved investments. We ask that they meet with concerned artists, community leaders, immigrant rights organizations, and detainees to hear the real story about the shares they own and how these funds should be redistributed.

ALL IMAGES

LATEST NEWS