Marabou considers Strike MoMA’s publication, A Framework and Terms for Struggle, a prime example of deep thinking around museums coupled with an active call for something new. Strike MoMA encourages folks to imagine possibilities beyond museums as they currently exist. Released on March 23, the document is both analysis and invitation.
In the previous post On Museum Responsibility, Marabou explored the value in asking seemingly straight forward questions like, “What is a museum’s responsibility?” and “What does a museum prioritize?” Strike MoMA analyzes the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) responsibilities and priorities and illustrates how the institution is a mirror of our society.
In “The Case Against MoMA” it is explained that the museum’s actions prove it is most responsible to and prioritizes its board of trustees and the art. The two are deeply intertwined. Strike MoMA addresses the current conversation around Leon Black’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein. Before Black stepped down as chairman (purportedly because of his wife’s health)  MoMA did not say a word about his relations with Epstein. Strike MoMA writes,
“They know his continued presence on the board is a recipe for crisis, but getting rid of him could set a precedent and put at risk MoMA’s use of his priceless art collection.”
The board members not only provide money (their own and that of their friends and colleagues) to the institution, but access to their expansive art collections. Even though Black has stepped down as chairman, he remains on the museum’s board. Black’s connection to Epstein is only the beginning of the board’s problematic associations. Strike MoMA details other board member ties to humanitarian harms including resource extraction that leads to displacement of communities and debt exploitation. Do the values and ethics of MoMA’s board reflect the values and ethics of the museum?
Strike MoMA considers MoMA holistically and explains that the institution is a problem from top (board) to bottom (working conditions on the ground). They go on to assert,
“This document comes from a movement perspective that de-exceptionalizes the museum. We refuse to acknowledge the separation of the museum from the rest of society.”
Museums were established as bastions of knowledge and culture. It is no surprise that they mirror the societies that built them. As MoMA Divest organizers have expressed, this movement is not about MoMA, it is about a concentration of harms in one place. MoMA is a microcosm of society’s ills. Strike MoMA lists examples that include concentration of wealth and power to the mega rich, exploitation of workers, racism, anti-Blackness, gatekeeping, ties to policing and support of the prison-industrial complex, wealth accumulated from imperialism and extraction, the list goes on.
Strike MoMA reminds us: It doesn’t have to be this way. There is something beyond MoMA, beyond art and cultural institutions that perpetuate inequitable systems. In turn, there is potential to come together to not only build something better than MoMA, but shift society altogether.
Marabou appreciates the document’s call to all people to build relations and meaningful connections. Asserted in the first term for Striking MoMA,
“We commit to mutually refuse all efforts to isolate our struggles into issue silos, understanding that single-issue organizing easily falls into the hands of those seeking to undermine our collective liberation.”
The seventh term starts out with,
“No to the separation and specialization of roles that the art system expects of us: worker, artist, curator, critic, organizer, journalist. Striking MoMA requires us all, outside, inside, and otherwise.”
The way forward is commitment to one another and refusing the system imposed by MoMA.
Strike MoMA’s terms also address an argument that is sometimes used to stall movement or leads to frustration: no one is perfect and our lives are full of contradictions. They write,
“No one is pure in a colonized world. We all live by our contradictions. Working at MoMA and disgusted with MoMA? Being an artist and hating the art system? Teaching at a university and wanting to tear it all down?… We can see contradictions as impediments and be consumed by frustration, ambivalence, and despair, or we can acknowledge and heighten them.” 
Marabou encourages you to read Strike MoMA’s Framework and Terms for Struggle. The document does not offer a solution. It states,
“There is no blueprint for dismantling MoMA, but here is the starting point: whatever comes after MoMA, it must preserve and enhance the jobs of museum workers, and enact reparative measures for communities harmed by the museum over time, beginning with the legacy of land dispossession. The agenda is open, but any path forward must be premised on the acknowledgement of debts owed: from top to bottom and horizontally too, between and within groups, communities, and movements.”
Strike MoMA’s Framework and Terms for Struggle remind us that something better is created through relation building, collaboration, communication, establishing shared goals, and continued analysis of the systems we live in. Strike MoMA offers a framework and point of convergence for moving forward together.
- Robin Pogrebin and Matthew Goldstein, “Leon Black to Step Down as MoMA Chairman” New York Times, March 26, 2021.
- Strike MoMA: Framework and Terms for Struggle, strikemoma.org, as of March 23, 2021.