Art for Justice

American philanthropist and art collector Agnes Gund is launching a criminal justice reform initiative, seeded with $100 million from the $165 million she received from the recent sale of her 1962 Roy Lichtenstein "Masterpiece," according to this report in today's New York Times.

Gund is asking other collectors to consider doing the same in support of the Art for Justice Fund, to be announced this morning at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“The larger idea is to raise awareness among a community of art collectors that they can use their influence and their collections to advance social justice,” Darren Walker,  president of the Ford Foundation, told The Times. “Art has meaning on a wall, but it also has meaning when it is monetized.” The Ford Foundation will administer the fund.

Mass incarceration numbers in the United States are staggering. As pointed out on the fund's website, the U.S. jails more people than any other country in the world, at a cost of $70 billion each year. Though we have just five percent of the world's population, we house 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

And the ramifications extend far beyond those housed in our jails, as pointed out on the site.

"The criminal justice policies that lead to these disproportionate outcomes devastate entire communities: not only the people sentenced to prison, but also the families they leave behind."

One of the first beneficiaries from the fund will be the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, the organization founded by Bryan Stevenson, author of the award-winning book "Just Mercy."

"There’s long been this criticism that people who have the means to acquire fine art are allowed to surround themselves with beautiful things while they are unwilling to look at the ugly realities that sometimes shape a community or a culture or a country,” Stevenson told The Times. “Using this art to actually respond to over-incarceration or racial inequality or social injustice is a powerful idea.”