Warren Kanders, the subject of months of protest actions, has finally given in to the demands of the art community; that of disassociating himself from the Whitney Museum as Vice Chairman of the Board.
Although well known in the art world as one of the most generous benefactors of the industry, he and his tear-gas company Safariland, have become controversial issues that the Whitney Museum has to deal with, in order to keep its art galleries alive.
The Toxic Philanthropy Syndrome
Activists call Kanders’ philanthropic acts as “toxic philanthropy”, a term used in referring to wealthy people who donate money earned from questionable or inappropriate methods. In Kanders’ case, money he has been doling out as museum benefactor comes from the manufacture and sale of tear gas being used on asylum seekers, specifically the Safariland brand being used in the U.S. – Mexico border.
In other protest movements, the name of the Sackler family, was the focus of attention. The family name was recently linked to the opioid crisis in the U.S. to which activists took action by calling on museums and educational institutions to disassociate themselves with the family. They bannered the toxicity of the Sackler philanthropy as coming from the fortune gained as owners of Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the addictive painkiller OxyContin
Kanders initially refused to resign when the calls first came, by way of a letter signed by almost 100 staff members of the Whitney Museum. In January this year, the movement calling for his resignation, escalated into becoming a months-long series of protest actions. .
Art activists gave support to the movements, refusing invitations to the Whitney Biennial and later, by withdrawing their art work in the ongoing Whitney Biennial. It was then that it became necessary for the museum board to take necessary steps in asking Kanders to resign.
Excerpts from Kanders’ Letter of Resignation
In his resignation letter, Kanders wrote that
“targeted campaign of attacks waged against me and my company these past several months has threatened to undermine the important work of the Whitney Museum.” — “I joined this board to help the museum prosper. I do not wish to play a role, however inadvertent, in its demise.”