Hundreds of bewildered tourists watched while queueing this morning to enter the Museum of Modern Art, which temporarily closed its main entrance on the day of its official reopening to the public. Minutes earlier, dozens of protesters marched down West 53rd Street chanting their demands for the removal of the financier Steven Tananbaum from the museum’s trustee board because his company, GoldenTree Asset Management, controls more than $2.5bn in Puerto Rican debt.
The demonstrators forced their way through a security checkpoint and metal barricades surrounding the entrance, blocking public access to the doors. They have characterized Tananbaum’s investments on the island as “predatory”, saying his company’s lobbying efforts to secure repayment have jeopardised the island’s recovery following the devastation cause by Hurricane Maria in 2017. “Steven Tananbaum has made major profits off our community’s pain,” Jesus Gonzalez, one of the protest’s organisers, told onlookers. “This is disaster capitalism at its finest.”
Last Friday evening, MoMA endured another protest outside its opening party by a coalition of activist groups including Decolonize This Place and New Sanctuary Coalition. During that event, demonstrators made similar calls for the removal of Tananbaum and Laurence Fink, the CEO of the investment firm BlackRock, which has large investments in private prisons and detention centers.
Museum workers responded to the demonstration by redirecting visitors to the alternative entrance on 54th Street. It was then that protesters decided to relocate their demonstration to the center of the city street. More than 20 policemen quickly gathered in response, announcing that the activists would be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct if they continued to obstruct traffic. Many of the participants did not budge and seven were arrested, including Gina de Jesus, an organiser with New York Communities for Change, and Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former speaker of New York City Council who is currently running for US Congress.
“MoMA get off it, put people over profit,” some protesters continued to chant as the arrests were made, pledging that they would return until Tananbaum was removed from the museum’s board.