[Marxism] Gala Honoree Causes Concern at American Museum of Natural History
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Mon Apr 15 08:26:13 MDT 2019
NY Times, April 15, 2019
Gala Honoree Causes Concern at American Museum of Natural History
By Graham Bowley
The American Museum of Natural History says it is exploring its options
after discovering that the honoree at a gala to which it rented space
next month will be President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, whose
environmental policies have come under fire.
In statements Thursday and Friday, the museum responded to criticism
that an institution dedicated to nature and science would serve as a
podium to honor someone who has proposed opening up more of the Amazon
rain forest to mining and agribusiness.
The event is an annual gala honoring a Person of the Year Award
organized by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit
that promotes business and cultural ties between the United States and
The museum said it had agreed to book the event this year before it
learned who the nominee would be, and its remarks suggested it might be
considering whether there is any way to back out of hosting the engagement.
“The external, private event at which the current President of Brazil is
to be honored was booked at the Museum before the honoree was secured,”
the museum said in a tweet. “We are deeply concerned, and we are
exploring our options.”
In a statement Friday, the museum said the event “does not in any way
reflect the Museum’s position that there is an urgent need to conserve
the Amazon Rainforest, which has such profound implications for
biological diversity, indigenous communities, climate change, and the
future health of our planet.”
The outcry over the event comes at a time of increasing sensitivities
about what sort of oversight museums should demonstrate in regard to the
people who serve on their boards, give them money or, as in this case,
rent their space.
Traditionally, museums have argued that they do not apply ideological
litmus tests to their donors or trustees, a position of principle, but
also one that enabled often cash-challenged nonprofit institutions to
accept financing from the widest spectrum of individuals.
The natural history museum cited the principle a few years ago in
defending its decision to offer a board seat to Rebekah Mercer, who is
an influential donor to the museum and also to groups that deny climate
Some museums, however, have recently taken a different stance, in
several cases, for example, saying they were reconsidering their
connections to the Sackler family over the ties of some family members
to the opioid crisis. And in New York, there have been protests at the
Whitney Museum of American Art, where a vice chairman on its board,
Warren Kanders, runs a company that manufactures tear gas that was used
to repel migrants trying to cross into the United States from Mexico.
The Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce could not be reached for
comment. Michael R. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, was one of the
chamber’s honorees last year, and Bill Clinton has been an honoree in
The criticism toward this year’s honoree built quickly. Mayor Bill de
Blasio entered the debate Friday, telling WNYC radio that he found the
event at an institution that accepts city funding “really troubling.”
“If you’re talking about a publicly supported institution and you’re
talking about someone who’s doing something tangibly destructive, I’m
uncomfortable with it, and I would certainly urge the museum not to
allow him to be hosted there,” he said.
Beka Economopoulos, who is the director of a traveling museum, said some
staff members at the natural history museum had been organizing in
opposition to the event involving President Bolsonaro.
“What he stands for is antithetical to what the museum stands for,” she
said. “When the museum offers its name and its space to this individual,
it undermines the trust the public puts in this museum and in science
Officials at the museum seemed to recognize that the gala has become an
issue that needed to be addressed with their staff. A letter to the
staff was sent out on Thursday night from Michael Novacek, senior vice
president and provost, and Daniel Scheiner, vice president for human
resources, saying they shared “a deep concern at the current plans.”
A spokeswoman for the museum said she could not speculate on what
options the institution was exploring for a gala that is just a month
away. “That is precisely the review that is going on now,” said the
spokeswoman, Anne Canty.
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