New York museums will not use Saudi funds for Middle East art programs

by Charlotte Smith

In the midst of the international uproar of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum have refused to use funding from Saudi for upcoming art programmes relating to the Middle East. In the wake of evidence suggesting the torturing of the journalist, the decision to refuse external funds tied to the Saudi government was announced in the New York Times. The programs are set to continue – a three-month exhibition about Syrian refugees at the Brooklyn Museum and an invite-only seminar at the Met next week about curating Middle Eastern art, are part of a yearlong ‘Arab Art & Education Initiative’, that brings together a coalition of artists, including exhibitions and educational programs to build a greater understanding of the Arab world.


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A symposium titled ‘Collecting and Exhibiting the Middle East’ is due to open at the Met, with external funding of $20,000.However, the museum’s CEO and President, Daniel Weiss, has said that “in light of recent developments we have decided that the museum will itself fund this event. While this conversation and a subsequent public colloquium were to be supported by external funds, in light of recent developments we have decided that the Museum will itself fund this event.”

Elsewhere, other institutions are also postponing events amidst increasing scrutiny. Columbia University has put plans of a lecture with Saudi artist Ahmed Mater, due to take place on 22 October on hold. Despite Columbia receiving no funding for the lecture, the event was organised in partnership with the Middle East Institute, which has previously received Saudi funding. “We will seek to find another time in the near future that is more conducive to the academic dialogue on campus that is the purpose of the lecture,” the university wrote in an email.

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