Agnes Gund Shares Her Vision for Creating the Art for Justice Fund



Art for Justice Fund founder Agnes Gund has been featured in several major news outlets discussing her reasons for starting the Fund. Most recently, Town and Country Magazine published a conversation between her and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker about why the Fund is necessary. Here is an excerpt:

DW: [Y]ou were like many privileged people: You just assumed things were the way they were. Then it really was through your own lived experience of your children marrying or partnering or adopting children that you also came to see through their eyes.

AG: Oh, I did. And I became much more acutely aware of the injustices that were going on in the world, which were the killing or the apprehension of people who really weren’t guilty of anything, or shooting them in the back when they were running away—people who haven’t done anything but have a taillight out.

And I began to think about how white people have the same drugs, if not more of them, and they don’t get put into prison for having a bunch of marijuana in their pocket, and black people do. And then they’re identified as criminals, and they’re not criminals. And yet if these people can’t pay bail, sometimes they’re asked to commit to pleading guilty because they’ll get a lesser sentence by doing so.

I think the whole system around bail and around plea-bargaining and around having to stay in places like Rikers Island isn’t a humane way to treat people. And it’s mostly black people that are treated that way. There was a very startling picture of a black man in the New York Times. He was saying how he had been put in jail at the very same time as a white guy, with the very same punishment, and everything was the same about their situations, and when they came up for parole the white man got parole and the black man did not. They were absolutely similar in many ways: same age, same crime, same record of being in prison. It just shows you so plainly how there is a difference between how justice is served.

DW: And you decided you needed to do something about it?

AG: You [referring to Darren Walker] were the first person I went to when I decided I would sell this painting. I had to get the money to do something, and you were very positive about it. The Ford Foundation had given many grants to justice-related initiatives that it was interested in, and you offered to help do the research on these projects and send some of the people working at Ford to help decide what kinds of organizations the money should go to, and what part art would play in this, which is very interesting to me.

Agnes was also featured earlier in the year in Vogue Magazine alongside other women working to reform the criminal justice system. And, last September she again joined Darren Walker in a podcast with the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart on the origins and goals of the Fund.