Few times in our nation’s history have we witnessed a domestic crisis the size and scope of mass incarceration, and few times have we seen a philanthropist more committed to social justice than Agnes Gund.
Widely recognized as one of the greatest art collectors in America, Aggie also has a deep and abiding commitment to addressing inequality and injustice in our nation. Recently, in an extraordinary act of generosity, Aggie sold a beloved piece of art from her personal collection, making possible a $100 million donation towards the creation of the Art for Justice Fund. This fund will provide and mobilize vital new resources in the fight for criminal justice reform.
For those of us who know her, this announcement and fund are consistent with Aggie’s life’s work. Aggie and I first met in Harlem two decades ago and in the ensuing years I've always been impressed by her humility, courage, and generous spirit. She has the eyes of a discerning curator and the heart and passion of a community organizer.
While the creation of this fund is a testament to Aggie’s astounding generosity, its important mission is also the product of her many conversations and consultations with leaders like Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Sherrilyn Ifill, and Laura Arnold—to name a few—and the inspiration of works like Ava DuVernay's award-winning documentary 13th.
For our part, we at the Ford Foundation are honored that Aggie would turn to us for advice, and deeply grateful that she chose to partner with us on this important initiative. Our broken criminal justice system and mass incarceration have long been engines of inequality and, for that reason, a long-standing focus of Ford's grant making.
We are excited by the potential of the Art for Justice Fund to infuse much needed resources into this important fight. Rather than reinventing the wheel, or splitting attention and resources, Aggie has chosen to enhance existing efforts, aligning her resources with other philanthropies that have been funding criminal justice reform for years. By partnering with others in the field and investing in proven strategies, Aggie has ensured that this gift—and all the other gifts that are part of the fund—will have the greatest possible impact. Ford is delighted to cover all the administrative costs of the fund, ensuring that 100 percent of donations go to nonprofit organizations working to reform the system. We will also benefit from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors' operational and programmatic support to the Fund.
As the New York Times reported, the Art for Justice Fund aims to raise an additional $100 million, and already collectors from New York to Los Angeles have joined in donating works of art or other assets. We hope more will be inspired by Aggie’s generosity and passion for change.
I’m reminded of a turbulent time in America—1968—when Dr. King was asked at the height of the civil rights movement whether America had become a “burning house,” and he replied, “We're just going to have to become the firemen."
Aggie is one such firefighter for justice, running courageously and selflessly toward one of our nation’s most daunting crises. That’s the kind of passion and commitment we need, because America's system of mass incarceration is an injustice we must work together to end.
For more information on how the Art for Justice Fund aims to propel reform and transform lives, visit www.artforjusticefund.org.