“Toxic Philanthropy” – Whitney Biennial Picketed over Tear Gas Board Member

Protesters march in the Meatpacking District against Whitney board member Warren Kanders, for his involvement with Safariland. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke

Around 200 activists packed the lobby of the Whitney on Friday evening during the Biennial exhibition’s opening to protest Warren B. Kanders’ position of Vice Chair at the museum.

Mr. Kanders’ company, Safariland, supplies tear gas and body armor to law enforcement.

The protest in the Whitney’s lobby marks the ninth week of demonstrations by a coalition of local activists groups calling on the Whitney’s board of directors to remove Mr. Kanders.

Before the mass of protesters entered the building, activists from Decolonize This Place and the Palestinian rights group Within Our Lifetime gave out baklava and candy to the Whitney staff in the museum’s lobby. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke

This controversy surrounds the Whitney while arts institutions around the world such as the Met, the Guggenheim and the Tate Modern are facing significant public pressure to drop controversial donors, such as the Sackler family, who profited off the opioid epidemic.

Mr. Kanders’ involvement with Safariland, which he purchased in 2012 for $124 million, gained the attention of the Whitney employees last year when the blog Hyperallergic reported that tear gas supplied by the company was used by U.S. border agents against asylum seekers at the San Diego-Tijuana crossing.

The museum stoked further backlash when Whitney director Adam Weinberg responded to his employees’ calls to remove Mr. Kanders by saying the museum “cannot right all the ills of an unjust world.

As of the publication of this article, 52 of the 75 artists selected for the Biennial have signed a letter demanding Mr. Kanders’ ouster.

The Whitney Museum declined to comment on the protest.

Around 200 protesters filled the lobby of the Whitney on Friday evening. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke
Visitors to the museum were greeted by a packed lobby full of signs saying “Warren Kanders Must Go” and masked activists. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke

Since March, local New York activist groups have protested the museum’s refusal to remove Mr. Sackler.

Friday’s demonstration consisted of groups such as the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, Equality for Flatbush and the Chinatown Art Brigade as well as immigration activists and the Palestinian advocacy group, Within Our Lifetime.

Protesters inside the Whitney on Friday. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke

Demonstrators who occupied the lobby made no attempt to block patrons from entering the museum, a point noted by an organizer for Decolonize This Place, which spearheads the coalition.

“We could have shut the museum down today,” Amin Husain of Decolonize This Place told demonstrators. “But after nine weeks of action we offer the museum leadership a window to do the right thing.”

Amin Husain, an organizer for local activist group Decolonize This Place, speaks inside the Whitney. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke
Leaders of the anti-gentrification group Chinatown Art Brigade speak to protesters inside the Whitney. | Taidgh Barron / Village Spoke

Before leaving the Whitney to march towards an “undisclosed location,” which turned out to be a Greenwich Village townhouse where Mr. Kanders allegedly lives, the coalition vowed to return if the Whitney keeps the defense magnate on their board.

“Fall is the deadline. We will be back if necessary and our tactics will escalate further.” Mr. Husain shouted.

Protesters march in the West Village.| Alex Xie / Village Spoke
The march continued through Friday night. | Alex Xie / Village Spoke

Police allowed the demonstrators to protest outside the townhouse until the crowd dispersed an hour later.

This comes a week after a member of Decolonize This Place was arrested and charged with three graffiti-related misdemeanors for taping flowers and signs to a subway car when the group was intercepted by police as they traveled to the Whitney.

Members of the police detail covering the protest against Mr. Kanders.| Alex Xie / Village Spoke

After the march Mr. Husain expressed his suspicions of the police presence.

“As we were starting to gather, a white shirt [officer] walked up to us and said, so you’re going to West 12th Street, right?” Mr. Husain told the Village Spoke.

“We never publicly said where we were marching to.”

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