Amid ongoing protests and public conversations around institutionalized racism in nearly every sector of society, activist groups Color of Change and Worth Rises are demanding that Tom Gores, an American billionaire who runs Beverly Hills private equity firm Platinum Partners and owns the Detroit Pistons NBA team, be taken off the board immediately. Color of Change is also one of the groups behind a recent Facebook ad boycott, which spread to the celebrity world this week.
The groups are taking issue with Gores’, through his private equity firm, ownership stake in Securus Technologies, a company that operates phones in prisons and has been accused of charging prisoners exorbitant fees to make phone calls. In a lawsuit filed this summer, Securus is accused of charging effectively $1 a minute for calls by inmates, either with a flat rate offer of $10 or $15 for calls up to that number of minutes, or by the minute. The charges go to inmates, who are overwhelmingly people of color and poor, or their families.
“The corporation rakes in more than $700 million per year charging egregious rates for phone calls from prisons, jails, and immigrant detention centers –– funds that are primarily siphoned from impoverished families and Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities of color, further constricting the urgent resources of marginalized people,” the groups wrote in a letter to LACMA board co-chairs Elaine Wynn and Tony Ressler and museum director Michael Govan. “As the ceo of Platinum Equity, Tom Gores wields unique control over Securus’ operational practices.”
In a statement to WWD, Mark Barnhill, Gores’ partner in Platinum Equity, said the company is committed to reform at Securus. Nevertheless, the private equity firm plans to divest the company at some point in the future.
“A small group of activists want us to break the business rather than fix it, or sell it rather than reform it. We disagree,” Barnhill said. “We’re change agents committed to transforming both the company and the industry. We’ll divest from Securus eventually as part of our normal investment lifecycle. But the path to exit runs through reform, and we are undeterred in shouldering the heavy lifting that goes along with that.”
In the week since the letter was initially sent, it’s been signed by more than 100 artists and people involved in the art world and industry. It was thought for a time this week that Leonard Lauder, the chairman emeritus of beauty conglomerate The Estee Lauder Cos. Inc. and himself a billionaire and major art collector, had signed the letter, but it turns out the signature was illegitimate. A representative of Worth Rises confirmed that the issue is being looked into.
Confirmed signatories include Jason Flom, a collector and music industry executive; Catherine Gund, a collector and documentary filmmaker; Kyle DeWoody, a gallery owner and curator who is also the daughter of wealthy arts patron Beth Rudin DeWoody and artist Jack DeWoody; art critic and artist Leslie Dick, and art historian Rhea Anastas, among many others. Artists who signed include Andrea Fraser, John Houck, Monica Majoli, Paul Sepuya, Sam Durant and EJ Hill, all of whom are part of LACMA’s permanent collection.
“Our institutions face an overdue moment of critical reckoning, from which LACMA is not immune,” the letter adds. “It is imperative that LACMA examine its own breach of neutrality as it pertains to the diverse communities it wishes to serve. In doing so, the board of trustees must repudiate the rotten entanglements of racism, police brutality, and state-sanctioned violence by renouncing Tom Gores.”
A representative of LACMA could not be reached for comment.
Other major museums in the country have been under fire as well for wealthy board members with major businesses that seem antithetical to current societal issues, including The Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York. Whitney board member Warren Kanders stepped down after an outcry over his company’s sale of tear gas used on protestors. Meanwhile, MoMa is under pressure to remove Larry Fink also over his alleged business ties to private prisons.
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