How This Roy Lichtenstein Painting Will Help The Fight Against Injustice In The Prison System

"This is the one thing I can do before I die."

Roy Lichtenstein's "Masterpiece."

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Yesterday at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Agnes Gund— a legendary patron of the arts — announced her plans for her new philanthropic organization called the Art for Justice Fund. She has started the fund with $100 million from the sale of Roy Lichtenstein's "Masterpiece," which sold months earlier for $165 million. 

The Art for Justice Fund focuses on over-incarceration, calling it a "problem we must confront," and describes its five-year mission as follows: 

Over the next five years (2017-2022), the Art for Justice Fund (A4JF) will support innovative advocacy and interventions aimed at safely cutting the prison population in states with the highest rates of incarceration, and strengthening the education and employment options for people leaving prison. In addition, the Fund will support selected artistic initiatives that enable artists to bear witness to the injustices of the system and speak to the potential of people enmeshed in it. 

In other words, the fund will thoroughly research and vet organizations who have and are successfully putting forth the effort to reduce incarceration rates, and educating and providing employment opportunities to people leaving prison. It will give those organizations money to help them succeed in their goals. Another branch of the fund will bring in artists to "bear witness" by creating artworks about the injustices of our current prison system.

The impetus for creating this the Art for Justice Fund was Gund's family.

Gund is a grandmother of 12, and, according to The New York Times, six of her grandchildren are African-American. So, after such things as reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and seeing 13th, the documentary by Ava DuVernay, and witnessing the "barriers that [her grandchildren] have faced as they have matured in a world that still has a narrative about expectations of them," she decided to put hundreds of millions of her own dollars towards fixing the problem of over-incarceration — and she invited her friends to join. From the fund's website:

Inspired by the leadership of Agnes Gund and seeded with funds from the sale of artwork in her collection, the Art for Justice Fund offers art collectors and patrons the opportunity to contribute to significant reforms in the criminal justice system. The fund is a five-year initiative designed to make meaningful progress on key reforms in the U.S. criminal justice system. The Art for Justice Fund raises private capital, primarily through the sale of art, to support strategic investments for high impact, lasting, bipartisan criminal justice reform at the state and local level.

Gund has a long track record of not only successful fundraising but also creating effective nonprofit organizations. She has sat on countless boards and committees within the arts including the New York State Council on the Arts, Socrates Sculpture Park, MoMA P.S. 1, and she was the president of the Museum of Modern Art. In 1977 she founded Studio in a School, a nonprofit organization that brings professional artists into school and community organizations with the aims of linking art with other academic subjects and providing low-income students with desperately needed arts education. In 1997 she was given the National Medal of Arts by then President Bill Clinton. 

Gund is determined to make this part of her lasting legacy. This is what she wants to be remembered for, and she told the New York Times that:

"This is the one thing I can do before I die ... This is what I need to do."

This foundation could end up being a tremendous vehicle for change. She has set herself up to be able to fundraise in an extremely effective way. Gund is a whale in the art world — where she goes, people will follow. And they have already started: other major patrons of the arts and large donors to the fund include Laurie M. Tisch, Kenneth I. Chenault, Jo Carole Lauder, and Brooke Neidich. Art is and has been an extremely lucrative tool for building and warehousing great wealth, and it is so wonderful that Agnes Gund is challenging herself and others to take that wealth and put it toward a goal of changing our country for the better for everyone.

(H/T: NPR)

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