The Ford Foundation has announced the launch of a $100 million fund in support of organizations working to address mass incarceration in the United States.
Launched with a $100 million donation from philanthropist Agnes Gund, who sold a prized painting from her own collection to underwrite the gift, the Art for Justice Fund hopes to raise an additional $100 million in private capital over the next five years through art sales and other donations. Among other things, the fund will award grants to nonprofit organizations and leaders working to safely reduce jail and prison populations across the country while strengthening education and employment opportunities for people leaving the system. The fund also will support art-related programs that expose the injustice of mass incarceration and its impact on individuals and communities, especially those of color.
The Ford Foundation will partner with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to manage the donated funds, disburse grants, and create various publications and programs in support of the effort. In addition to providing expertise on program design, Ford also will cover the operating costs of the fund so that 100 percent of donated funds go directly to programming and grants.
"The criminal justice system in its current state — particularly in its treatment of people of color — is unfair and unjust," said Gund in a statement. "It is my hope that by supporting organizations working on criminal justice reform with proven track records, the Art for Justice Fund can inspire change and help pave the way for a better, safer future for our communities and the millions of people whose lives are devastated by mass incarceration."
According to the New York Times, Gund, president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, sold a prized 1962 Roy Lichtenstein work, Masterpiece, for $165 million to hedge fund manager and noted art collector Steven A. Cohen to create the fund. Six of Gund's twelve grandchildren are African-American, and, according to the Times, she has worried about their future in light of recent shootings of unarmed black teenagers. Moved by Michelle Alexander's 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and by Ava DuVernay's 2016 documentary, 13th, about African Americans in the prison system, Gund consulted Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, a longtime friend.
"Aggie is in the unique position of being a prominent, privileged white philanthropist who also has African-American grandchildren," Walker told the Times. "So she is a witness to the barriers that they have faced as they have matured in a world that still has a narrative about expectations of them."
Founding donors to the fund include Phil and Shelley Fox Aarons, John and Laura Arnold, Clarence Otis, Jr. and Jacqueline Bradley, Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault, Tony and Robyn Coles, Pete Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney, Pamela Joyner and Alfred Giuffrida, A.C. Hudgins, Jo Carole Lauder, Marguerite Steed Hoffman and Tom Lentz, Daniel S. Loeb, Raymond J. McGuire and Crystal McCrary, Brooke and Dan Neidich, Edith Cooper and Robert Taylor, Laurie M. Tisch, and Steve Tisch.
"There's long been this criticism that people who have the means to acquire fine art are allowed to surround themselves with beautiful things while they are unwilling to look at the ugly realities that sometimes shape a community or a culture or a country," Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, told the Times. "Using this art to actually respond to over-incarceration or racial inequality or social injustice is a powerful idea."