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Activists Demand MoMA Divest from Private Prisons and Weapons Manufacturers

“There is blood on this art,” protesters shouted at the wealthy patrons attending a museum luncheon honoring Bank of America’s CEO.

Protesters outside MoMA preparing for their demonstration against Brian Moynihan and Laurence Fink (all photos by author)

Why is the Museum of Modern Art honoring Bank of America’s CEO Brian Moynihan when his company is a top funder of private prisons? That’s one question protesters were asking the Midtown museum’s visitors this afternoon.

“There is blood on this art,” shouted protesters in MoMA’s lobby as wealthy patrons shuffled into the museum for its annual David Rockefeller Awards Luncheon. A group of about 10 demonstrators handed out leaflets to receptive tourists and museum staff while picketing the attendees who walked toward the award reception with large posters. They also shouted: “MoMA divest from private prisons! MoMA divest from war!”

This year’s luncheon honors Moynihan, whose award is for “an individual from the business community who exemplifies enlightened generosity and effective advocacy of cultural and civic endeavors,” according to the museum’s websiteTickets for the event ranged in price from $100,000 to $2,500 each.

Today’s protest was cosponsored by CODEPINK and Art Space Sanctuary in conjunction with Decolonize This Place’s ongoing campaign against the Whitney Museum and its vice chairman Warren Kanders. (In November, Hyperallergic reported that the businessman’s weapons manufacturing company was responsible for the teargas and gas canisters that border agents hurled at asylum-seekers approaching the US-Mexico border.)

“We want the public to know that a major cultural institution benefits from the normalization of violence,” CODEPINK organizer Sarah Manasrah explained to Hyperallergic ahead of today’s demonstration. “We want museums like MoMA to divest from private prisons and war profiteering.”

Activists at the museum were also targeting Laurence Fink, a MoMA board member who heads BlackRock the world’s largest global investment management firm. Demonstrators accused the company of war profiteering through its investments in weapons manufacturers such as Boeing, Raytheon, and General Dynamics; they also noted that BlackRock is the second-largest shareholder of private prisons including Geo Group and CoreCivic.

One luncheon attendee grabbed a leaflet from protesters on his way to the event; others, including Robert Kraft, largely ignored the calls for divestment. Hyperallergic counted nearly 25 museum staffers and security guards observing the protest, but none interfered with the demonstration.

Protesters in the MoMA lobby

After the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio labeled BlackRock as number two on his list of “Dirty Dozen” companies with $345 million worth of investments in the gun industry. Following the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the investment management corporation announced that it would exclude gunmakers from some of its funds. The company has also begun to engineer avenues for its clients to divest from fossil fuels and weapons. BlackRock has an Impact World Equity Fund, which “seeks to achieve exposure to equity securities with a measurable positive societal impact,” according to the company’s website.

“It’s great that they’re trying to be better,” said Manasrah, “but it’s still hypocritical when you’re invested in companies like Raytheon and General Dynamics.”

Fink is a frequent target of CODEPINK’s protests. Last year, the group staged a die-in on Wall Street when the Museum of Finance was honoring Fink; they also circulated a petition condemning the International Rescue Committee’s decision to give the businessman an award for humanitarianism.

Like BlackRock, Bank of America is another major funder of private prisons in the world. It is one of the six major banks who’ve invested in the controversial industry. Although JP Morgan recently announced that it would stop funding private prisons and detention centers — “We will no longer bank the private prison industry,” a company spokesman told Reuters — Bank of America has not released plans to stop their investments any time soon.

Fidelity Investments, which manages MoMA’s pension fund, is also a large owner of private prison stocks.

A museum spokeswoman told Hyperallergic over email that the cultural institution has no comment on the protest.

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