As protests continue across the country, cities are being forced to grapple with the realities of police violence and systemic racism. As part of that examination, some organizations are taking a closer look at their relationship with local police departments.
On Wednesday, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis became the first major museum to cut ties with the police. It announced that it will no longer use the Minneapolis Police Department for special events until “meaningful change” is in place, including demilitarization of training programs, officer accountability for excessive force, and communities of color being treated with dignity and respect.
The announcement comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while in police custody on May 25. The Minneapolis Park Board and Minneapolis public schools have also ended their contracts with the police, which will no longer staff park-sanctioned events or serve as school resources officers.
Museums and other organizations often hire off-duty police officers as security for special events. While there’s no specific information about the relationship in Minneapolis, a 2016 study found that about 80% of non-federal agencies allow the practice, and tens of thousands of officers put in millions of hours a year doing so.
The Minneapolis Institute of Art followed the Walker’s lead, stating that it “will no longer contract with off-duty police officers from the MPD,” according to Artnet. While many museums around the country have issued general statements, so far the two Minneapolis institutions are the only ones to officially cut ties. On Instagram, the Guggenheim posted that “we are listening, we are grieving with you, and we support collective action in calling for social justice.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art said it “affirmed The Met’s solidarity with the Black community, recommitted to our ongoing efforts to diversify our institution.” MoMA created a list of resources in support of justice and equality as a “place to start.”
Fast Company reached out to the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and SF MoMA to ask if they had plans to cut ties with local police forces and to comment on any existing relationship. None of the institutions responded before publication.
The way that museums respond to this particular moment will be particularly fraught, considering the lack of diversity in their permanent collections—a 2018 study revealed that 75% of artists in major U.S. museums were white men and just 1% of artists were women of color.
Curatorial diversity is subpar as well: According to a 2018 survey that evaluated the ethnicity and gender diversity of art museum staff, just 4% of curators were black. Making their collections and curators more representative of the communities they serve, in addition to instituting social justice and anti-racist policies in operations, research, and acquisition, will be an uphill battle. But, it goes without saying, a necessary one. Certainly, announcements from other institutions might come. As MoMA wrote, this is just the beginning—but it seems the Walker might have a head start.