New York City Politician Melissa Mark-Viverito Is Arrested During a Protest of MoMA Trustee Steven Tananbaum

Multiple groups targeted the museum for its ties to hedge fund investor Steven Tananbaum.

#CancelTheDebt protesters from New York Communities for Change demonstrate against trustee Steven Tananbaum at the October 21 opening of the expanded Museum of Modern Art. Image: Eileen Kinsella.
#CancelTheDebt protesters from New York Communities for Change demonstrate against trustee Steven Tananbaum at the October 21 opening of the expanded Museum of Modern Art. Image: Eileen Kinsella.

This morning, local politician Melissa Mark-Viverito was among a group of protesters who were arrested outside the newly re-opened Museum of Modern Art as part of demonstrations against trustee Steven Tananbaum.

Several activist groups converged on MoMA, targeting the museum’s official reopening to the public, which drew a line of visitors stretching down the block. As opening time approached and protesters began to appear, the NYPD and MoMA security began placing barricades in front of the 53rd Street entrance.

According to one protester in attendance, Inaru Guara, activists had marched down Sixth Avenue, starting at 55th Street before turning onto 53rd. Guara noted that today’s action included human rights and environmental activist groups, among them New York Communities for Change and Cancel The Debt. “As a community member, I represent everyone,” she added.

#CancelTheDebt protesters from New York Communities for Change demonstrate against trustee Steven Tananbaum at the October 21 opening of the expanded Museum of Modern Art. Image: Eileen Kinsella.

#CancelTheDebt protesters from New York Communities for Change demonstrate against trustee Steven Tananbaum at the October 21 opening of the expanded Museum of Modern Art. Image: Eileen Kinsella.

A Facebook post from Communities for Change lays out the reasoning for targeting the museum: Tananbaum, who sits on the MoMA board, “made his money at the cost of closing schools, cutting retirement pensions and other services in Puerto Rico.” The group called Tananbaum’s hedge fund, Golden Tree, “one of the most aggressive vulture funds taking advantage of Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.”

#CancelTheDebt protesters from New York Communities for Change sit in in front of the Museum of Modern Art on October 21.<br> Image: Eileen Kinsella.

#CancelTheDebt protesters from New York Communities for Change sit in in front of the Museum of Modern Art on October 21.
Image: Eileen Kinsella.

“We are taking action at the MOMA reopening demanding the museum to take out Steve Tananbaum from its board of trustees,” the post continued. “For the people of Puerto Rico!”

Mark-Viverito, who was previously speaker of the New York City Council and is currently running to replace Bronx representative José Serrano, was part of a group that occupied 53rd street holding a banner reading “4,645 Puerto Ricans,” a reference to the number of people who died in the devastating 2017 Hurricane Maria. The banner also included the slogan #CANCELTHEDEBT.

A protester unfurls the Puerto Rican flag in front of MoMA as part of a protest against trustee Steven Tananbaum on October 21. Image: Eileen Kinsella.

A protester unfurls the Puerto Rican flag in front of MoMA as part of a protest against trustee Steven Tananbaum on October 21. Image: Eileen Kinsella.

“We cannot allow these types of cultural institutions to be used as a way of whitewashing money,” Mark-Viverito said to a crowd of reporters. “Puerto Rico is suffering. People are losing their pensions. [Due to] privatization of resources, schools are closing down and the higher education system is being stripped of its budget. These practices must end. And we’re seeing global unrest over similar practices. Austerity measures don’t work. Austerity measures suck the life out of the future of the people of Puerto Rico and we cannot allow that.”

Mark-Viverito is arrested in front of the Museum of Modern Art as part of a #CancelTheDebt protest on October 21. <br>Image: Eileen Kinsella.

Mark-Viverito is arrested in front of the Museum of Modern Art as part of a #CancelTheDebt protest on October 21.
Image: Eileen Kinsella.

Shortly before 11 am, the NYPD started broadcasting an announcement warning demonstrators that they were “unlawfully” blocking the roadway and needed to relocate to the sidewalk or be placed under arrest for disorderly conduct if they remained in the roadway.

Police in front of the Museum of Modern Art on October 21. Image: Eileen Kinsella.

Police in front of the Museum of Modern Art on October 21. Image: Eileen Kinsella.

Mark-Viverito and her group remained seated until police officers moved in and began placing them one by one in plastic handcuffs, eventually putting them in a nearby truck for transportation to the local precinct. Mark-Viverito did not immediately respond to request for comment though pictures and comments were posted on her Twitter feed following the incident.

According to reports, seven protesters were arrested. Overall, the demonstrators numbered several dozens.

Not all members of New York’s activist community were impressed. Decolonize This Place, which has recently led protests against the Whitney, the American Museum of Natural History, and other venues, denounced Mark-Viverito in an Instagram post. The group quoted Bronx activist Shellyne Rodriguez calling Mark-Viverito a “snake” whose record in City Council made her complicit with gentrification and the NYPD, suggesting she was opportunistically latching onto museum protests “to manufacture street cred.”

(Rodriguez currently works for MoMA as an educator. She is quoted in the audio guide to the newly reinstalled permanent collection offering insight into the work of Mexican Muralist David Alfaro Siquieros.)

Monday morning’s action comes on the heels of another protest at MoMA on Friday night, during MoMA’s exclusive opening party. Groups including #MoMADivest and CodePink protested outside the museum, targeting a different member of the museum board, Laurence D. Fink, CEO of BlackRock, saying that he “profits from war, ICE detention centers, private prisons, and the climate crisis.”

Image courtesy of CodePink

Image courtesy of CodePink

While the group on the street handed out a flyers to party attendees, a smaller group who gained access to the party unfurled banners and performed what CodePink spokesperson and #MoMADivest member Rose Asafa described as a “mic-drop” or chant that was partially drowned out by the party’s DJ. Outside on the sidewalk, the group placed large blocks of ice that had the words “Melt MoMA” and “Melt ICE” carved into them.

Image courtesy of CodePink

Image courtesy of CodePink

MoMA did not immediately respond to artnet News’ request for comment.

Image courtesy of CodePink

Image courtesy of CodePink

 


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