USA: Whitney Museum Vice Chairman's company Safariland supplied tear gas used on asylum seekers; museum staff demand action

On November 25, 2018, US border agents discharged tear gas on hundreds of Central American asylum seekers and migrants, including children. Multiple on-site reporters have shared that the tear gas canisters used are branded by "Safariland", a corporation owned by Warren B. Kanders, a vice chairman at the Whitney Museum of American Art. More than 100 staffers at the Whitney Museum have signed a letter demanding acknowledgment from the Whitney’s board, the considering of Kanders’ resignation, a museum-wide forum for employees to discuss related policy issues, and the creation of a clear policy for trustees going forward. We invited the Whitney Museum to comment on the demands raised by staff; it did not.

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Article
26 December 2018

Decolonize This Place announces January 26 town hall regarding Whitney Museum’s tear gas problem

Author: Hrag Vartanian, Hyperallergic

The Decolonize This Place movement is calling for continued action against the Whitney Museum after news that one of the institution’s vice chairs owns Safariland, which is a manufacturer that was supplying tear gas to border authorities that gassed a group of migrants last month.

...The group writes... "faced with the deafening public silence concerning the current crisis of the Whitney Museum — both from the museum and from leading voices in the artworld — we feel the need to make this statement. After the courageous letter written by staff calling for the removal of Safariland owner and CEO Warren Kanders from the board of the Whitney, and the action undertaken by Decolonize This Place and its collaborators on December 9th to amplify that demand, we... ask: what will it take for others to stand, speak, and act in order to force the Whitney to reverse its current course?... Two weeks since the [December 9] action, the museum still refuses to publicly respond... Following the staff letter, the statement from Weinberg, and ultimately our action of December 9th, we had expected a tipping point of outrage... Yet, with several important exceptions, there has been a conspicuous silence... We thus call upon all individuals and communities who feel a stake in the current crisis of the Whitney to assemble on January 26th with location in Manhattan to be announced. The event will be a forum not only for the expression of grievances, but also for practical planning in terms of how to best achieve the goal of removing Kanders from the board of the Whitney.

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Article
3 December 2018

Letter from Safariland CEO in response to Whitney Museum staff's concern about his company's tear gas being used on migrants & asylum seekers

Author: Alex Greenberger, ArtNews

"I am not the problem": Whitney Vice Chair responds to open letter calling for action against him

While the staff at the Whitney felt the need to speak out, which I fully support, it is unfortunate that they did not first reach out to me. As such, I have taken it upon myself to respond... We are the largest global manufacturer of body armor for police officers, we provide safety holsters that prevent criminals from taking firearms from cops and we make the majority of the bomb suits worldwide worn by people who risk their lives to keep us safe... Safariland’s role as a manufacturer is to ensure the products work, as expected... not to determine when and how they are employed. The staff letter implies that I am responsible for the decision to use these products. I am not... I am proud that we have broadened the Whitney’s role as the preeminent institution devoted to the art of the United States. While my company and the museum have distinct missions, both are important contributors to our society. This is why I believe that the politicization of every aspect of public life, including commercial organizations and cultural institutions, is not productive or healthy... My hope is that providing facts about Safariland, and the vital products it produces for public safety professionals worldwide, can lead to a more informed and constructive dialogue as we move forward together.

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Article
3 December 2018

Whitney Museum Director responds to demands for action against Vice Board Chair

Author: Alex Greenberger, ArtNews

'We live in truly difficult times': Whitney Museum Director responds to demands for action against Vice Board Chair

In a note sent... to Whitney Museum staff and trustees, Adam Weinberg, the New York institution’s director, responded to an open letter demanding action against Warren B. Kanders... Weinberg’s letter, which does not address whether Kanders’s status at the museum will change [says the contemporary museum is]... "a safe space for unsafe ideas.”... "As members of the Whitney community, we each have our critical and complementary roles: trustees do not hire staff, select exhibitions, organize programs or make acquisitions, and staff does not appoint or remove board members... Even as we contend with often profound contradictions within our culture, we must live within the laws of society and observe the “rules” of our Museum... To those of you, and I trust it is nearly all, who want to move forward despite some significant differences of opinion, I am here as your partner, to lead and to work hard every day to make the Whitney, and possibly the world, a better place. I accept that there may be a few of you who are not inclined to do so, but I would like nothing more than to continue this journey together."

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Article
30 November 2018

Whitney Museum staffers demand answers after Vice Chair’s relationship to tear gas manufacturer is revealed

Author: Hrag Vartanian, Zachary Small & Jasmine Weber, Hyperallergic

Three days after Hyperallergic published an article detailing the Whitney Museum’s connection to the ongoing migrant crisis at the US-Mexico border, more than 100 staffers at the Manhattan-based museum have signed a letter demanding that their employers respond to the article’s allegations. Whitney Museum vice chairman Warren B. Kanders purchased the defense manufacturer “Safariland” in 2012... The company was just one of two companies, owned by Kanders, whose logos appeared on the tear gas canisters and smoke grenades launched as asylum seekers on the border between Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, California on November 25... Staffers excoriated the Whitney’s leadership, which includes the museum’s director Adam D. Weinberg, whose decision to remain silent on the matter impacts the “visitor-facing staff, who are, generally speaking, [the] most diverse and lowest paid staff” at the downtown institution.

... Signatories listed their current demands, which includes acknowledgment from the Whitney’s board, the considering of Kanders’ resignation, a museum-wide forum for employees to discuss related policy issues, and the creation of a clear policy for trustees going forward. Hyperallergic has not yet received a response from the Whitney Museum or Safariland in response to multiple inquiries at the time of this article’s publication.

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