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Artists lend support to MoMA strike on its 111th day

Over 125 artists signed an open letter to the museum detailing the group’s regret over the museum’s refusal to negotiate with the union

How many people are crossing the picket lines in front of one of New York’s most popular destinations, the Museum of Modern Art? According to the museum’s press office attendance for June 2000 was 95,500 visitors, compared to 94,600 visitors in June 1999. One non-striking museum worker commented, “The museum was so busy the other day I was having trouble walking through the lobby.” Protesters contest this report. According to one striker, “We have heard from reliable sources [inside the museum] that attendance is down by 1,500 people a day and that receipts at the MoMA Bookstore and MoMA Design Store are down sharply. In my experience on the picket line, a great many people find out the strike is still going on, and they turn around... and it’s hard to count how many people are staying away from MoMA altogether.”

While the Professional and Administrative Staff Association (PASTA) and MoMA have yet to reach common ground in negotiations (or in assessment of attendance figures) the strike has inspired some activism in the artistic community of New York City and beyond. On 16 August, as MoMA staffers commemorated the 111th day of protest, over 125 artists signed an open letter to the museum that ran in the Village Voice and Time Out New York. The signatories include Vito Acconci, Pedro Almodovar, Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery, John Coplans, Barbara Kruger, Bill T. Jones, Martin Scorsese, Susan Sontag and Quentin Tarantino. The letter details the group’s regret over the museum’s refusal to negotiate with the union, and it urges people to “honour the picket lines by staying away from MoMA and its stores until the strike is settled.” A few days prior to the publication of this letter, Glenn Lowry, the director of the museum, and Agnes Gund, its president, sent a letter to people on the museum’s mailing list clarifying the museum’s position. Both museum and striking workers are currently writing letters of rebuttal. Among the issues being contested in the strike are healthcare benefits, starting salaries of $17,000 and impending layoffs due to construction of the museum’s $800 million expansion.