“We wanted to put together something really quick to inform our community about what’s happening in Rhode Island,” said Alex Martinez, director of the Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance.
Inspired by the FANG Collective‘s social media storm back in June, and then an article in Hyperallergic earlier this week, a group of Kansas City, Missouri artists held a protest outside the Kemper Museum over ties between museum trustee and UMB Bank CEO Mariner Kemper and the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island.
When the Wyatt Detention Facility Board voted back in April to suspend a new contract to hold United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees at the for profit prison, the bondholders, who have invested over $130M in the prison, objected, and sued city officials including Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, several City Councilors, and members of the Wyatt Board. Representing the bondholders is UMB Bank, whose CEO is Mariner Kemper, who is a trustee of the Kemper Museum, which was founded by Kemper’s parents.
The protest, which took place on Sunday, September 1, was organized by artists Carmen Moreno, Alex Martinez, Kiki Serna and Chico Serria. Between 40 and 50 people attended.
Moreno is a biracial Latina artist. Her own father was repeatedly deported when she was a child. The last time her father was deported she didn’t see him him for 12 years. “I took out student loans to travel to Mexico and find him,” said Moreno, by phone. “Since the beginning of the Trump administration immigration and the situation at the border has been more and more important to my work as an artist.”
Though the museum claims that it has received “fewer than a dozen calls” about the situation in Rhode Island, Moreno knows this to be untrue. Most of the 40-50 people who showed up for the protest had attempted to register their complaints with the museum by phone, said Moreno, only to find that the museum had turned off their phones.
Another of the organizers is Alex Martinez, the director of the Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance, which “does a lot of immigration advocacy.”
“We wanted to put together something really quick to inform our community about what’s happening in Rhode Island,” said Martinez by phone. “We wanted to make it clear that the artists that are currently collaborating with Kemper and even artists that work at Kemper that they can make the decision to stand on the right side and protest as well.
“When we had the protest they could have walked out, show their support and not stand for family separation. We’re asking folks to join us in that.”
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The Kemper Museum has a reputation for supporting artists from many communities, including the Latinx community. A week before the protest many artists, including some of those who planned and participated in the protest, enjoyed the 25th annual Kemper Museum’s 2019 Block Party.
Learning of the Mariner Kemper’s ties to immigrant detention centers is disappointing and difficult to reconcile for many in the Kansas City arts community
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