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Cultural Figures Urge MoMA and Trustee Larry Fink to Divest from Private Prisons

NEW YORK—Artists, curators, and scholars are calling on the Museum of Modern Art in New York and its trustee Larry Fink, the founder, chair, and CEO of the investment management company BlackRock, Inc., to divest from private prisons, Artnews reports.

Nearly all the participants in a conference held at the museum this weekend, “The Multiplication of Perspectives: The 10th Anniversary of MoMA’s Global Research Initiative, C-MAP,” have signed a statement that denounces the private prison system and draws attention to dominant companies such as Core Civic and CEO Group and their treatment of detained immigrants.

According to the New York Times, private prisons have become “the government’s default detention centers for undocumented migrants,” housing around 73 percent of immigrants who are currently in detention and only 9 percent of the United States’ total prison population.

The document also draws attention to Fidelity Investments, which invests in private prisons and manages the museum’s pension fund, and asks for the institution to meet with artists, activists, and community leaders about their concerns.
One of the signees, Natalia Brizuela, a professor at the University of California Berkeley, read the statement, which was authored by the activist group Art Space Sanctuary, following a panel on translating visual ideas across cultures, and received a standing ovation from several members of the audience. The other signatories include Kader Attia, Cecile Fromont, and Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz.

The statement comes on the heels of a petition circulated by Art Space Sanctuary, which garnered more than eighty signatures, and a protest staged by about ten demonstrators in MoMA’s lobby on Thursday, March 7. The action took place during a museum luncheon honoring Bank of America’s CEO Brian Moynihan.

The group’s website claims that JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s announcement last month that it would stop financing for-profit prions and detention centers and Wells Fargo’s decision to reduce its relationship with the prison industry as part of its “environmental and social risk management” process earlier this year as the result of successful divestment campaigns and is working toward attaining a similar outcome with MoMA.

MoMA is one of the many arts institutions to be targeted this year over its sources of funding. The Whitney Museum of American Art is embroiled in controversy over its ties to Warren B. Kanders, the owner of the defense company Safariland, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been the sites of anti-Sackler protests led by photographer and activist Nan Goldin. The Guggenheim has since delcared that it will no longer accept funding from the Sacklers.

The statement in full is as follows:

We, invited speakers at the MOMA-organized conference The Multiplication of Perspectives, ask that MOMA and its board member Larry Fink divest from private prison companies.

MOMA Board member Larry Fink is CEO of BlackRock, the 2nd largest shareholder of prison companies, GEO Group and Core Civic. With over $2 billion in contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), these two companies are responsible for over 70% of all immigration detention including families separated at the border. MOMA’s own pension fund, Fidelity, is also one of the largest owners of these prison stocks.

These prisons punish for profit, break up families and communities, detain immigrant children and impede visits.

These prisons are racist, violent and routinely violate human rights. Detained Migrants are denied due process.

These prisons cut costs, deny medical care and serve barely edible food.

These prisons think of immigrants as a market. This is just the beginning. They are seeking to expand into other markets.

If the MOMA Board are not convinced of the injustice, we ask that Larry Fink and the MOMA board meet with concerned artists, community leaders, immigrant rights organizations, and detainees to hear the real story about the prison shares they own.

Kader Attia

Zdenka Badovinac

Omar Berrada

Natalia Brizuela

Victoria Collis-Buthelezi

Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz

Cecile Fromont

Timea Junghaus

Jumana Manna

Joe Masco

Achille Mbembe

Zoran Popovic

Harsha Ram

Ann Stoler

Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi

April 30, 2019