Anyone who has followed our tweets, posts on Face book, blogs here, and public speeches, know how often we have commented about the silence and/or inaction of the leaders of major philanthropies in response to current critical issues such homelessness, racism in our criminal justice system, and our failing K-12 public education system.
Thus, it was a welcomed lightning bolt to learn about the recent creation of The Art For Justice Fund by a wealthy donor, Agnes Gund. The Fund is a joint initiative between Ms. Gund, an art collector and patron and the Ford Foundation. She sold her prized 1962 Roy Lichtenstein “Masterpiece” for a $150 million.; among the 15 highest known prices ever paid for an artwork.
““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,” said Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. “Using this art to actually respond to over-incarceration or racial inequality or social injustice is a powerful idea.”
News about the creation of the Fund made me think of the musical “My Fair Lady”, based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” where professor Henry Higgins, speaking about Eliza Doolittle, exclaims “By George, she’s got it …The rain in Spain is mainly in the plain”.
This reference is not intended to directly or indirectly diminish the magnitude and foresight of Ms. Agnes Gund’s donation and apparent long-standing commitment for social justice.
Her generosity, however, also made me think of some of those earlier legendary African American artists who applied their artistry in writing, painting, or as performing artists to the cause of racial justice: Paul Robeson, actors such as Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Canada Lee, Douglas Turner Ward, Ivan Dixon, Sidney Poitier, Ira Aldridge, Canada Lee, painters Charles White, Roemer Bearden, writers Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Nora Zeal Hurston just to name a few; and, of course the 20th and 21st century performing artist champion for racial and social justice, my beloved friend, Harry Belafonte.
While, we have been publicly critical of the major philanthropies for not “stepping up to the plate” to commit their enormous resources to racial social justice, like Ms. Agnes Gund has done, it is also time to publicly call out some of our 21st century’s wealthy performing artists like Kanye West, Jay Z, Beyoncé, and others, as well as many NBA highly paid basketball players.
How many cars, pieces of conspicuous jewelry, expensive homes or airplanes do you need? Agnes Gund and The Ford Foundation’s Art For Justice Fund can effectively use any donation you are prepared to make. We beseech you, to follow the social leadership of your elder, Harry Belafonte, for example.
Remember the words of Isaiah 6:8:
“I hear the Voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, who will go for us? ‘Here I am; send me.”
If not now; when?