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Art Space Sanctuary protest at the MoMA
Art Space Sanctuary, CODEPINK, and Decolonize This Place protest at the MoMAvia Twitter (@FreedomCityNow)

Art activists demand the MoMA cuts ties to private prisons

Art Space Sanctuary is calling on the New York museum and its trustee Larry Fink to cease investments into the American private prison system

An activist group known as Art Space Sanctuary is calling for the MoMA and museum trustee Larry Fink to cut all investments connected to private prisons in the US.

As reported by Art Newsa petition details that the group is “ask(ing) MoMA and its board member Larry Fink to divest from private prison companies, divest from dehumanisation”. Fink is CEO of Blackrock, a major shareholder in private prison companies Core Civic and GEO Group. Between these companies, there is over $2 billion in contracts with ICE – a previous investigation by the Intercept found that together, both are responsible for over 70 per cent of all immigration detention, including families separated at the border. Further, MoMA’s pension fund, Fidelity, is also one of the largest owners of private prison stocks.

The Intercept report detailed that detainees in CoreCivic detention centres were left without air conditioning throughout the summer, and were denied medical care. The GEO Group and CoreCivic continue to see their stocks soar as immigration detention expands and Trump’s anti-immigrant policies press on,

The group is asking that the MoMA board and Fink meet with them, as well as community leaders, immigrant rights organisations, and detainees to learn more about private prisons and their systems.

Fink previously came under fire for acting as an advisor to the Trump administration back in 2017. Protesters marched into the MoMA to demand he was removed from the board. A statement from Occupy Museums said at the time: “There is a long history of activism at MoMA. In fact, tonight’s free museum entrance was brought to you by the Art Worker’s coalition protests decades ago. So in this tradition, we are calling for MoMA to change its behaviour. 

“No More Normalising Trump. We are calling for Larry Fink to be kicked off the board as a sign to your public that you care for our values of human dignity.” 

Fink later resigned from the Trump admin forum. 

Last week, Hyperallergic reported on the Art Space Sanctuary and collectives Decolonize This Place and CODEPINK demonstration at the MoMA’s David Rockefeller Awards Luncheon, where the institution was honouring Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan. The groups claim that Moynihan also has stakes in US private prisons. Protesters chanted “there is blood on this art” during the disruption.

According to Art News, more protests are planned, but the group declined to provide any further details.

The activist collective is asking art and culture institutions across the world to declare themselves a ‘sanctuary’. In doing so, they promise to provide “a safe space where people won’t be mistreated because of their race, gender, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, religious faith, political or scientific views”, and make public statements committing to protecting the information surrounding the immigration status of staff, artists, and visitors. They also ask them to agree to “not allow federal immigration authorities in to search the premises without court-issued warrants specific to those premises”, which is a legal right. It’s also asked that art spaces provide resources to help undocumented people and other marginalised groups, offer temporary refuge in case of hate crimes or raids, and petition State and Federal officials to support legislation and policy that protect the rights of non-citizens in the US.

So far, the Natural History Museum, Brooklyn Arts Exchange and Centre for Artistic Activism have pledged

The last year has seen a distinct spike in direct action to challenge galleries and museums, from Nan Goldin’s anti-opioid PAIN group demonstrating against the Sackler family involvement in multiple institutions, and the protests against oil investment particularly with the British Museum. Art activist group Decolonize This Place continue to push back against the Whitney Museum’s chairman Warren Kanders, whose weapons manufacturing company provides teargas and gas canisters that border agents use on asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border.

More details on the cause against the MoMA and Larry Fink’s involvement in private prisons can be found here.