Monday, June 12, 2017

Ending Mass Incarceration Through Art

Agnes Gund Sells A Lichtenstein To Start A Criminal Justice Fund:

In January, rumors swirled that the art collector and patron Agnes Gund had sold her prized 1962 Roy Lichtenstein “Masterpiece” for a whopping $150 million, placing it among the 15 highest known prices ever paid for an artwork.
Ms. Gund is confirming that sale now, revealing that she parted with the painting (for what was actually $165 million, including fees) for a specific purpose: to create a fund that supports criminal justice reform and seeks to reduce mass incarceration in the United States.
This new Art for Justice Fund — to be announced Monday at the Museum of Modern Art, where Ms. Gund is president emerita — will start with $100 million of the proceeds from the Lichtenstein (which was sold to the collector Steven A. Cohen through Acquavella Gallery).
“This is one thing I can do before I die,” Ms. Gund, 78, said in an interview at her Upper East Side apartment, where the Lichtenstein used to hang over the mantel, along with works by Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko. “This is what I need to do.”
I had to read that a couple of times to actually believe it, especially the words on the fund's website.
The criminal justice policies that lead to these disproportionate outcomes devastate entire communities: not only the people sentenced to prison, but also the families they leave behind.
Yet there is little investment in proven prevention, education and re-entry programs that could reduce incarceration and recidivism — and transform millions of lives.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
More from the article:
The effort is noteworthy, not only for the amount of money involved — rarely do charitable undertakings start at $100 million — but because Ms. Gund is essentially challenging fellow collectors to use their artworks to champion social causes at a time when the market has made their holdings more valuable than ever.
“The larger idea is to raise awareness among a community of art collectors that they can use their influence and their collections to advance social justice,” said Darren Walker, the Ford Foundation’s president. “Art has meaning on a wall, but it also has meaning when it is monetized.”
Those who have already committed to the fund — and are being called founding donors — include Laurie M. Tisch, a chairwoman of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Kenneth I. Chenault, chief executive of American Express, and his wife, Kathryn; the philanthropist Jo Carole Lauder; the financier Daniel S. Loeb; and Brooke Neidich, a Whitney trustee.
“There’s long been this criticism that people who have the means to acquire fine art are allowed to surround themselves with beautiful things while they are unwilling to look at the ugly realities that sometimes shape a community or a culture or a country,” said Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. “Using this art to actually respond to over-incarceration or racial inequality or social injustice is a powerful idea.”
The impetus for the fund was personal. Six of Ms. Gund’s 12 grandchildren are African-American, and she has worried about their future as they’ve matured, particularly in light of shootings of black teenagers like Trayvon Martin in Florida.

After seeing the film, Ms. Gund called Mr. Walker, long a close friend. “She said, ‘I really want to do something to help here,’” Mr. Walker recalled. “‘What if I sold one of my jewels and we used the proceeds to make grants to organizations working on mass incarceration?’”

Because criminal justice “has never been very popular in philanthropy,” Mr. Stevenson said, “I’m hoping the fund will help energize some long overdue reform efforts.
Incredibly, I have absolutely nothing snarky or sarcastic to say about this piece. I'm simply blown away by the recognition of this problem from what is otherwise the very rarefied world of art collecting. As Stevenson said, you just don't ever see criminal justice, particularly mass incarceration, a hot topic in the world of philanthropy and the arts.

But there it is. Thank you Ms. Gund, and all the other donors. Maybe I'll apply for a grant myself, seeing as the novel I'm working on currently deals directly with mass incarceration and criminal justice. 

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