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NYPD Police Academy graduation at Madison Square Garden in 2015. Photo: Jetta Disco/Flickr.

Museums Pressured to Divest from Police

Days after George Floyd was killed by the police, the University of Minnesota severed its ties with the Minnesota Police Department (MPD). Two of the city’s leading arts institutions, the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Museum of American Art, followed suit. “Museums are not neutral and must actively participate in the dismantling of deeply rooted, systemic racism and racial violence in America,” reads a statement on the museum’s website. Their actions have served as the catalyst for institutions citywide to terminate their relationships with the police.

According to the Minnesota media outlet Bring Me the News, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board voted to stop hiring the MPD to work at park events and will alter their uniforms to ensure their park rangers can’t be mistaken for the police. The city’s public school system also voted to end their contract with MPD resource officers: “We must take all actions within our power to stop systems of oppression,” board chair Kim Ellison said in a statement. Local law firms, including Dorsey & Whitney, have pledged to no longer prosecute misdemeanor cases through the Minneapolis City Attorney’s program.

Activists and protestors across the United States are now urging arts institutions in their cities to also commit to divesting from police forces. Many were dissatisfied with museums’ initial responses to the unrest, which many have considered lackluster, and have demanded that they do more to show their solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Walker Art Center director Mary Ceruti told Artnews that the institution had worked with the MPD for at least seven years, employing them to boost security at special events including its gala and Rock the Garden music festival. The off-duty officers were paid on an hourly basis, but the museum declined to share how much they have paid to the MPD over the years.

When asked about whether she thinks other museums should also terminate their contracts, Ceruti said: “I’m not going to presume to understand the specifics of different institutions and their relationships with their police departments—I think that can be specific and localized. But as a field we are all acknowledging that we need to do more, and we have to accelerate the change within our own institutions.” She also praised city police chief Medaria Arradondo for immediately firing the four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest.

New York art workers have made calls for arts institutions to divest from the New York Police Department. While police contracts with institutions are not public knowledge, museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Bronx Museum of the Arts—members of the Cultural Institutions Group which receive capital operating support from New York City for their security, maintenance, administration, and energy needs—can potentially redirect funds away from the NYPD. A Google spreadsheet that began circulating last week is currently crowdsourcing information on New York institutions’ history with the NYPD and internal efforts to dissolve contracts.

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