Nonprofit Museum Speaks Out Against New Anti-LGBT Law—But Is That Its Mission?

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Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York / Lee Cannon

April 5, 2016; Hyperallergic

With businesses and government speaking out about the recent rash of attempts to pass laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people, there is still plenty of room for nonprofits to be heard on the subject, even those with missions that are not focused in that way. Here is one example.

Although the Neuberger Museum of Art lent the pieces to be displayed to the Mississippi Museum of Art in “When Modern Was Contemporary,” an exhibit due to open on April 9th, its director, Dr. Tracy Fitzpatrick, and the president of Purchase State College in New York, Thomas J. Schwarz, will sit out the opening in response to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s signing of the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act into law. Mississippi is the third state after Kansas and North Carolina to recently pass an explicitly anti-LGBTQ bill.

There are 52 artists featured in the exhibit, including Jackson Pollock, Marsden Hartley, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Mark Rothko.

Here is a statement from Fitzpatrick:

At the Neuberger Museum of Art, we are delighted that the residents of Mississippi will be afforded the extraordinary opportunity to view works by some of America’s most important 20th century artists from our collection in “When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection.” This exhibition reflects the ways in which our founding patron, Roy R. Neuberger, supported living artists irrespective of their backgrounds and beliefs, and valued open dialogue through a mix of ideas—even those that were controversial and unpopular, an approach that is in opposition to Mississippi’s new, sweeping, discriminatory anti-gay and transgender legislation.

As an academic art museum our role is to educate diverse audiences in and through the visual arts by presenting a variety of media and cultural perspectives, and works by artists from diverse backgrounds and convictions. While I hope that the presence of the works by such a diverse group of artists in “When Modern Was Contemporary” will help create dialogue around these issues, in view of Mississippi’s new discriminatory law it is with great regret that I must decline the Mississippi Museum of Art’s kind invitation to celebrate with them on the occasion of the opening of the Neuberger exhibition.

In keeping with its values, the Neuberger Museum hopes that its newly opened exhibition, “Louise Fishman: A Retrospective,” will also contribute to this dialogue in a meaningful way. The exhibition is the first career survey of this important American artist who has long fought for the meaningful recognition that we believe has eluded her and many women artists because of sexism and anti-gay bias. Hopefully, both the Louise Fishman exhibition and When Modern Was Contemporary will stimulate comment and thoughtful dialogue as many in the nation struggle to achieve a greater climate of acceptance and equality. Many of the programs associated with the Louise Fishman exhibition will focus on LGBTQ issues.

Let that be a model for you and yours.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Kebo Drew

    Nonprofits and especially arts nonprofits have to say something is they are to truly represent and advocate for their communities. These laws have sneaky additions, such as disallowing the $15 minimum wage, which will hurt everyone. Or as we know in my organization, LGBTQ people of color have been in the leadership of many social movements (Black Lives Matter and #NoOneMore/#NiUnaMas being more recent examples) because we embody the intersections between issues, we are also very much like canaries in the coal mine. So if a law targets us, it will very bad for everyone else.