THE U.S. JAIL AND PRISON POPULATION increased more than ten-fold over the past 40 years, despite crime rates dropping by about 50 percent during the same period. To address the issue, Agnes Gund (above) provided $100 million to establish the Art for Justice Fund. A New York City philanthropist and arts patron, Gund sold a major painting by Roy Lichtenstein from her personal collection to seed the effort. In a true demonstration of art for change, the new national fund will serve as a powerful resource for organizations focused on ending mass incarceration.

Created in partnership with the Ford Foundation (disclosure: I worked for the Ford Foundation from 2007-2012) and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), Gund hopes her gift will encourage other art collectors to contribute to the fund. As art sales have reached unfathomable prices at the high-end of the market, it’s a smart strategy designed to appeal to philanthropic-minded collectors who may be encouraged to give when they learn more about the urgency of criminal injustice and its impact on society.

Over the next five years, the goal is to raise an additional $100 million in private capital from art sales or other donations. More than a dozen donors have already made a commitment, including Phil and Shelley Fox Aarons; Clarence Otis, Jr. and Jacqueline Bradley; Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault; Tony and Robyn Coles; Pamela Joyner and Alfred Giuffrida; A.C. Hudgins; Jo Carole Lauder; Daniel S. Loeb; Raymond J. McGuire and Crystal McCrary; Edith Cooper and Robert Taylor; Laurie M. Tisch; and Steve Tisch.

“Masterpiece” by Roy Lichtenstein used to hang above the fireplace mantel in Gund’s Upper East Side apartment and was featured in “Lichtenstein: A Retrospective” (2012-2013) at the Art Institute of Chicago and Tate Modern. Earlier this year, Gund sold the 1962 painting to start the Art for Justice Fund. According to the New York Times, collector Steven A. Cohen bought it for $165 million (including fees) through Acquavella Gallery. The fund will be announced today at the Museum of Modern Art, where Gund is president emerita.

“The criminal justice system in its current state—particularly in its treatment of people of color—is unfair and unjust,” Gund said in the Ford Foundation announcement. “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.”

“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.” — Agnes Gund

RPA will manage the the Art for Justice Fund and administer the grants to nonprofit advocacy, education, and arts organizations. Ford is lending its experience in the criminal justice sector to help shape the fund’s programming and cover its operating costs so that 100 percent of donations directly benefit grants and reform initiatives.


Feb. 18, 2013: A visitor stands in front of a painting entitled “Masterpiece,” during a press preview of “Lichtenstein, a Retrospective” at the Tate Modern. | Photo by Dan Kitwood, Getty Images


THE EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE (EJI) in Montgomery, Ala., a national leader in criminal justice reform, is committed to ending mass incarceration. The legal advocacy organization has received grant support from the Ford Foundation and its founder, Bryan Stevenson, was appointed to the foundation’s board earlier this year. According to EJI, as crime rates fell, the United States incarcerated more of its citizens than any other nation in the world and the excessive punishment disproportionately affects people of color:

  • Violent crime has fallen more than 51 percent since 1991, and property crime has decreased by more than 43 percent
  • U.S. jail and prison populations have increased from less than 200,000 in 1972 to 2.2 million today
  • America built a new prison every two weeks in the 1990s, and still could not meet the demand for prison beds
  • Private prisons operated by for-profit corporations multiplied from five in 1998 to 100 in 2008, and profits have increased more than 500 percent in last 20 years
  • At dawn of the 21st century, one in three black boys, and one in six Latino boys, was projected to go to jail or prison in his lifetime
  • United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners
  • Nearly 7 million people are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole in United States today

ACCORDING TO FORD, the Art for Justice Fund will “make grants to organizations and leaders doing impactful and cutting-edge work to reform the criminal justice system. Grants will seek to safely reduce jail and prison populations across the country, while strengthening education and employment opportunities for people leaving the system.” The fund will be guided by the “expertise of practitioners and advocates who are working closest to the challenges and can provide insight on the barriers and opportunities within the criminal justice reform field.”

Arts programs that document and explore the injustice of mass incarceration are eligible for support. The fund’s inaugural grants are expected to be announced at the end of 2017.

“With the creation of this fund, we have an opportunity to make huge steps toward real justice in our criminal justice system,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “Ms. Gund’s vision and generosity on this issue is extraordinary, and will not only make meaningful change possible, it will inspire others to take a stand.” CT


FIND MORE about mass incarceration from EJI


A number of books document recent scholarship and reporting on mass incarceration including “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander, John Pfaff’s “Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform,” and “Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time” by James Kilgore, who was formerly incarcerated, which features an introduction by Alexander.


Agnes Gund discusses diversity in the arts with Ford Foundation President Darren Walker. | Video by Association of Art Museum Directors, Published Set. 21, 2015


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