Climate activists from the New York City chapter of international organisation Extinction Rebellion staged protests at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) on 18 November and 19 November, respectively. In chants, banners and accompanying statements they accused cultural institutions of being complicit in impending climate catastrophe. Protests at the museums lasted multiple hours and resulted in the arrest of 13 activists in total.
Extinction Rebellion’s protest at the Guggenheim coincided with the museum’s pay-what-you wish admission window on Saturday evenings. Members of the group hung banners over the Frank Lloyd Wright building’s multi-story spiral bannister and made speeches. The protest unfolded against the backdrop of the museum’s newest exhibition, Going Dark: The Contemporary Figure at the Edge of Visibility, which highlights the artistic tension present in choosing to hide figures and render bodies invisible. According to the group’s posts on X (formerly Twitter), the Guggenheim protest lasted for around three hours and was allowed to continue as visitors entered and exited the museum’s galleries.
In a statement regarding the protest, Extinction Rebellion’s New York chapter asked: “With the whole world at risk, what is any of this even for? Why do we have exhibitions at all, and why do we have museums?” Activists were allowed to occupy the lobby until the Guggenheim’s closing time at 8pm, when New York Police Department officers arrested all who did not voluntarily leave.
The following day and on the other side of Central Park, activists from the group staged a “die-in” at the AMNH, lying down at the feet of its iconic Barosaurus display while speakers took turns delivering messages from the base of the dinosaur plinth. Extinction Rebellion claimed on X that the protest prompted the museum to close the doors to its main entrance and waive ticket fees for guests already inside to usher crowds past the protest as fast as possible. The museum did not allow protesters into galleries and no arrests were made within the building.
Climate activists had previously targeted the AMNH over a conservative donor’s position on its board. In late 2019, following a series of protests and mounting public pressure, Rebekah Mercer—who has supported groups disputing climate science—left the museum’s board of trustees.
Extinction Rebellion is a UK-founded environmental movement with chapters in major cities worldwide. Key demands from the New York City branch include media accountability, improvements to democratic channels for change within the US and government accountability for educating and acting on climate change. The previous week, the group staged a protest during an auction at Christie’s salesroom in Rockefeller Center.