LOS ANGELES — In a statement released last Friday, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) announced that Steven Mnuchin would be resigning from the museum’s board, which he joined in 2009. This comes just days after the Wall Street banker and movie producer was nominated to be Donald Trump’s Treasury secretary. Mnuchin had previously been Trump’s campaign finance chairman. Even before his tenure on MOCA’s board, Mnuchin had connections to the art world through his father, the art dealer Robert Mnuchin, a former partner at Goldman Sachs who opened his first gallery in 1992.
“Since I’ll be focusing my full-time efforts as nominee for Secretary of Treasury, I’ve decided to resign from MOCA’s Board of Trustees,” the statement read in part.
“We are grateful for Steven’s long-time service as a Trustee and co-chair of the Governance and Nominating Committee,” MOCA co-chair Maurice Marciano said in the statement. “We wish him all the best in his new endeavors.”
Prior to his resignation, there had been a growing movement to pressure MOCA to remove Mnuchin from the board, including an online petition titled LA MOCA take Trump’s minion off your board! “‘Radical’ arts programming — with the financial strategist for white nationalism on your board — is hypocritical and complicit,” stated the petition. Despite his resignation, the anonymous coalition of artists and concerned citizens who created the petition still had lingering questions for MOCA.
“Why was a man accused of racist loan and foreclosure practices allowed to serve for so long on the board an institution that serves a diverse public? Why was a man whose business practices include shady self-dealing as the head of both OneWest bank and Relativity Media allowed to participate in MOCA’s oversight and planning processes? As Mnuchin — a man whose racist actions and ethical lapses lie at the core of his success — served on the Governance and Nominating Committee of MOCA’s Board of Trustees, on what basis does MOCA’s board make its decisions, particularly when it comes to presenting and serving diverse communities?” they asked in a statement sent to Hyperallergic on Sunday. Mnuchin was labeled the “foreclosure king” for his former position as CEO of OneWest Bank, which has been accused of predatory lending and responsible for thousands of evictions that disproportionately affected senior citizens and people of color.
A protest outside MOCA to be held last Sunday was organized by We the People Resist, who described themselves in an email to Hyperallergic as “a multi-faith Los Angeles based grassroots organization” affiliated with CLUE, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. The protest was cancelled after Mnuchin’s resignation from MOCA’s board was announced, however the group stressed that the museum should still be held accountable.
“Is the preservation of art worth it if the money is ‘bloody’?” they asked in the email. “MoCA should have removed him earlier because as an institution of art and progress they should start to be sensitive to where their money comes from – especially because he profited from over 36,000 foreclosures during the 2008 recession and continues to be one of the few who accumulates gross wealth in the face of abject poverty in Los Angeles…We expect more from our cultural institutions. It is highly disturbing, and definitely should make people question the extent of their involvement and support to an institution that refuses to acknowledge just how problematic it is to have a financial strategist for white nationalism on their board.”
This controversy echoes similar protests at museums that aim to expose problematic institutional financial ties. After several actions by artist activist groups targeting BP’s financial support of the Tate, the energy and oil company announced that they would discontinue their corporate sponsorship of the British museum chain. Much like MOCA’s statement, neither BP nor the Tate acknowledged the role of the protests, labeling the end of their 26-year partnership only as “a business decision.”
According to the LA Times, Mnuchin also resigned form the boards CIT Group Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp., in addition to MOCA.