When it comes to allyship, Agnes Gund puts her money where her mouth is. The philanthropist and art-collector recently confirmed reports that she sold her original 1962 Roy Lichtenstein “Masterpiece” for $165 million in order to create a fund supporting criminal justice reform to reduce mass incarceration in the United States. After watching Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary, 13th, about African-Americans in the prison system and reading Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” Ms.Gund was inspired to take action. “This is what I need to do,” said the 78-year-old philanthropist in an interview with the New York Times. "This is one thing I can do before I die.”
Using $100 million of the proceeds from the Lichtenstein sale, Ms. Gund, who currently serves as president emerita of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, launched the Art for Justice Fund administered by the Ford Foundation. The fund will provide grants to organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., with a proven track record in criminal justice reform. Issues of inequality and racism hit close to home for Gund who has six black grandchildren. She told the Times that she was concerned about their futures in light of the current social climate. “I have always had an extreme sensitivity to inequality,” she said.
Ms. Gund, who was nominated by President Obama in 2011 to sit on the Board of Trustees for the National Council on the Arts, is imploring fellow art collectors to follow her example. “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.” Ms. Gund's goal is to raise an additional $100 million over the next five years. Already the fund has received generous donations from "founding donors" including 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. “I was moved by her passion,” said Ms. Tisch who has contributed $500,000 in proceeds from a Max Weber painting she recently sold. “It’s ambitious, but when Aggie puts in a $100 million, that’s a real signal that it’s important and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
What an amazing testament to the power of sharing our narratives. We salute Ms. Gund for her generous activism.