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The Met & Brooklyn Museum Won't Use Saudi Funds For Middle East Art Program

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia earlier this week
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Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia earlier this week BANDAR ALGALOUD HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum will no longer accept Saudi money for two upcoming Middle East art programs, in the wake of mounting evidence that the country's government tortured and killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The decision was announced by the two museums on Thursday, the Times reported. Both institutions said they'd continue to carry the programming, which is part of the Arab Art & Education Initiative, a year-long cultural exchange effort that includes exhibitions, artist dialogues, and educational programs at museums and venues across the city. But they will not use external funding from groups tied to the Saudi government, as previously planned.

A spokesperson for Columbia University also told Gothamist that it had decided to cancel a lecture and reception from Saudi artist Ahmed Mater that was scheduled for Monday, even though it had not received any Saudi money. "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 spokesperson said.

In a statement, Met president Daniel Weiss acknowledged that the museum had received money connected to the Saudi royal family for an invitation-only scholarly seminar on curating Middle Eastern art. Though the museum still has the money—less than $20,000, according to Weiss—it will be self-funding the event. It's unclear what the museum plans to do with the cash.

Similarly, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Museum said that it would no longer accept the outside funding for an ongoing exhibition on Syrian refugees, “in light of recent events and in harmony with the international community’s concerns."

Earlier this week, Turkish officials shared gruesome details from an audio recording that reportedly captured Khashoggi's death and dismemberment by Saudi agents. While American intelligence agencies increasingly believe that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia ordered the killing, President Donald Trump has thus far refused to assign blame to the Saudis—likely out of fear that punishing the royal family could have major consequences for an ongoing arms deal with the oil-rich kingdom.

Instead, Republicans in Congress and others allied with the Trump administration are reportedly mounting a whisper campaign smearing Khashoggi, in an attempt to protect the president from criticism about his handling of the alleged murder.

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