CalArts and Student Protesters Reach Agreement on Divestment

LOS ANGELES — The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Santa Clarita announced on Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with the school administration regarding disclosure and divestment “from entities and funds that contribute to human rights violations.” The news follows nearly two weeks of demonstrations by students and faculty at the school’s entrance, echoing the demands of protesters at college and university campuses across the country in response to Israel’s ongoing attacks on Gaza.

Over 1,000 members of the CalArts community signed a letter to the university’s president and trustees outlining multiple demands. These included the public disclosure of CalArt’s investment portfolio; divestment “from all funds, companies, corporations, or partnerships that fund human rights violations such as the Israeli apartheid and genocide against Palestinians”; and the release of a public statement expressing solidarity with Palestine and condemning the Israeli government.

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After meeting with the Faculty for Justice in Palestine (FJP) group and SJP CalArts, the school agreed to the full disclosure of its investment portfolio to the student and faculty negotiations team and to the establishment of an Ethical Investment Workgroup (EIW) led by students, which will work with the Board of Trustees to divest from funds linked to human rights violations and monitor investments going forward.

The agreement does not specifically mention Israel or refer to divestments from companies backing Israeli military activities, however.

“Students and faculty have been actively advocating for Palestine on our campus over the past several weeks, and those activities have been consistently peaceful,” a CalArts spokesperson told Hyperallergic. “We’re proud of our students and community, who have engaged in thoughtful dialogue regarding the conflict with respect and empathy, and in the context of our mission and values.”

The agreement comes after months of activism, including an online exhibition of Palestinian artists; talks with artists Ayreen Anastas, Rene Gabri, Jumana Manna, and Dina Abdulkarim; teach-ins; and walk-outs. In January, several artists dropped out of a CalArts MFA exhibition at the UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills, alleging that they were not permitted to amend their artist statements to include expressions of solidarity with Palestinians.

Earlier this year, police were called after student artist Karim Abuabara installed an artwork listing Palestinian death tolls at the entrance to the school. The incident was followed by a forum to discuss and reaffirm the university’s long-standing anti-censorship policy.

“CalArts lists social justice, agency and persistence as some of its core values on the website and we believe this plays a huge role in what guided the administration’s response because we WERE persistent and we were exercising our agency,” an SJP at CalArts spokesperson told Hyperallergic via email.

The CalArts agreement comes shortly after Occidental College agreed to disclose its investments and grant amnesty to student protesters. The board of trustees will vote on divestment by June 6. Elsewhere in LA, students at California State University of Los Angeles have a meeting with their president on May 16; Pitzer College graduates presented their president with small Palestinian flags during their commencement ceremony; and last weekend protesters were met with heavy police presence during Pomona College’s graduation ceremony, which had been moved from campus to the Shrine Auditorium adjacent to the University of Southern California.

“The students have been an inspiration throughout, and the process they set in motion is extremely significant,” said Eyvind Kang, a faculty member at CalArts’s Composition and Experimental Sound Practices Department. “The SJP demonstration at the front of the school offered a place for students to come together on campus. It has been a place of learning, caring, mourning, defiance, organizing, artmaking, joy, and yes, solidarity.”


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