On April 5th, Verso Books released an open letter to the Whitney Museum signed by over 120 theorists, critics, and scholars in support of Whitney staff and to echo demands from the November 2018 Whitney staff letter signed by 95 workers. The April 5th letter addresses the demand to remove Warren B. Kanders from the Whitney’s board of trustees, but also says the crisis at the Whitney is an opportunity to open dialogue. As stated in the letter,
“Saying “no” to Kanders opens a positive opportunity to begin a deep, and long-overdue conversation about artwashing, the role of private funding in the cultural sphere, and the accountability of institutions to the communities they claim to serve.”
The April 5th letter acknowledges that the problem is not just at the Whitney and not just at museums, but extends to all institutions that rely on private funding like universities and cultural sites, asserting,
“They have long functioned as “good places to convert roughly obtained private wealth into social prestige,” as the Washington Post recently put it. These institutions provide cover for the likes of Kanders as they profit from war, state violence, displacement, land theft, mass incarceration, and climate disaster.”
The letter concludes with a call to action, not only to the Whitney, but to all artists and cultural workers,
“There are no easy solutions to the current crisis of the Whitney, and there is no blueprint for decolonization. But there is a desire to confront these problems across a broad spectrum of the arts, academia, and grassroots community groups. As mobilizations and actions continue, we call upon educators and cultural workers of all kinds, including artists in the Whitney Biennial and in the collection of the museum, to join us in taking a stand against Kanders. This moment is an opportunity for the museum leadership to do the right thing, to stand on the right side of history, and to participate in a transformative process that could set the bar for other institutions across the country.”
This letter is another means of pressure exerted on the Whitney. Beginning with the Whitney staff letter last November, there has been continuing action asking for the removal of Kanders. 9 Weeks of Action leading up to the Whitney Biennial are currently taking place, organized by Decolonize This Place and over 30 community and activist groups. The the April 5th letter adds the support and voices of 120 scholars, critics, and theorists to the chorus of artists, museum workers, and communities speaking up against Kanders and the Whitney. Marabou wonders if the addition of these signatories to the movement asking for the removal of Kanders and reconsideration of museum funding sources will compel the Whitney to respond.