September 16, 2009


CAE Defense Fund donated to Center for Constitutional Rights & New York Civil Liberties Union

Buffalo, NY—After a widely watched four-year legal battle, the CAE Defense Fund was officially dissolved last week, with its remainder of unexpended funds donated in two substantial gifts to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

The CAE Defense Fund was originally created as a mechanism to raise funds for legal bills incurred by Dr. Steven Kurtz and Dr. Robert Ferrell in what its members argued was a politically motivated attack by the Department of Justice—one which threatened the constitutional and fundamental rights not only of the two defendants, but also of everyone, due to legal precedents that would have been set by an unfavorable outcome.

In response, thousands of people worldwide organized demonstrations and raised money for the two men’s legal defense through fundraisers and a variety of other grassroots efforts.

The fund was also heavily supported by internationally renowned artists including Sol Lewitt, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Mike Kelley, Julie Mehretu, Hans Haacke, Takashi Murakami, Mary Kelly, Martha Rosler, Lorna Simpson, Emily Jacir, Ken Lum, Edward Burtynsky, Jin-Me Yoon, and many others, who donated work to auctions at Paula Cooper Gallery in April 2005, and at A Space Gallery in Toronto in 2007. (See a complete list of donating artists) Other artists such as Chuck Close, Walid Raad, and Ed Ruscha made substantial direct cash contributions. An award-winning independent film about the case directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson (Strange Culture, 2007) brought the case to new audiences and raised thousands of dollars for the two men’s defense through Special Benefit screenings. In all, the Fund raised approximately $350,000.

Drs. Kurtz and Ferrell were indicted for mail and wire fraud in June of 2004. Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the maximum sentence for those charges was increased from five years to twenty years in jail. After an arduous four-year-long struggle, in April of 2008 the indictment against Kurtz was finally dismissed by Federal Judge Richard J. Arcara as “insufficient on its face”—meaning that even if the actions alleged in the indictment (which the judge must accept as “fact”) were true, they would not constitute a crime. Ferrell pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in October 2007 after recurring bouts of cancer and three strokes suffered during the course of the case prevented him from continuing the struggle.

When the case was dismissed instead of going to trial, approximately $108,930 remained in the fund.

“Had the case gone to a jury trial, that amount wouldn’t have been enough to cover Steve’s legal bills through the trial, let alone appeals in the event of a guilty verdict” explained Edmund Cardoni, Executive Director of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center in Buffalo NY, and the Fund’s fiscal administrator. “When the case was finally thrown out, we were thrilled, but we were presented with a new problem. The committee was very conscious of our ethical responsibility to make sure this money would be used in a way that honored the original intent of the many people who gave money to the fund, and the artists who donated art works to the fundraising auction.”

In keeping with that purpose—to defend our constitutional and fundamental rights—the CAE Defense Fund and Trial Fund committees, in consultation with artists, curators, and others centrally involved in the fundraising efforts, voted to disburse the remaining funds by awarding 80 percent ($87,150) to the CCR, and 20 percent ($21,780) to the NYCLU.

CAE Defense Fund coordinator Lucia Sommer said, “We are extremely happy that the case is over, and that the remaining funds can be passed on to organizations that have such a distinguished record of defending not only the U.S. Constitution, but also the human rights and dignity of all people.”

Added Kurtz, “I always promised everyone who donated their time, labor and hard-earned money to our defense that this struggle would do more than demonstrate to the Justice Department that the art, science, academic and activist communities would not be intimidated by its authoritarian tactics. We knew the legal precedent set by the case was critical to preventing what happened to Bob and me from happening to others, and it’s incredibly rewarding to know that these funds can now be used to defend others who do not have the kind of support we had.”

Representatives of both organizations expressed gratitude for the donations.

“The NYCLU is very pleased to receive this generous contribution from the CAE Legal Defense Fund to continue our work in restoring, defending, and upholding our constitutional and fundamental rights, including artistic and academic freedoms,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, congratulated the CAE Defense Fund “and its many dedicated and principled supporters for your extraordinary victory—a victory for our country and the Constitution as much as it is for the individuals.” He further stated that, “The CCR is honored to use the tremendous support of the Fund's donors to continue the fight against repression of dissent and illegal detentions—work which, unfortunately, is still sorely needed.”



Artists who donated to the 2005 Benefit Auction at Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, included:

Acconci Studio, Dennis Adams, Carl Andre, The Atlas Group, Nayland Blake, Mel Bochner, Cecily Brown, Chris Burden, Paul Chan, Jeremy Deller, Mark Dion, Sam Durant, Tony Feher, Andrea Fraser, Joseph Grigely, Hans Haacke, Ann Hamilton, Rachel Harrison, Emily Jacir, Mike Kelley, Mary Kelly, Barbara Kruger, William Pope L., Louise Lawler, Zoe Leonard, Sol LeWitt, Glenn Ligon, Sharon Lockhart, Brice Marden, Allan McCollum, Julie Mehretu, Arnold Mesches, Donald Moffett, Dave Muller, Vik Muniz, Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, Cathy Opie, Rubén Ortiz Torres, Laura Owens, David Reed, Alexis Rockman, Martha Rosler, Christy Rupp, Carolee Schneemann, Richard Serra, Cindy Sherman, Amy Sillman, Lorna Simpson, Kiki Smith, and Janaina Tschape, and Master of Ceremonies Wallace Shawn.

Artists who donated to the 2007 Gala Benefit & Auction organized through A Space Gallery, Toronto included:

John Abrams, Shelly Bahl, Jeremy Bailey, Edward Burtynsky, David Cheung, Moira Clark, Lori Clermont, Carla & Morgan Sea Coma, Carole & Karl Beveridge Conde, Luci Dilkus, John Greyson, Freda Guttman, Sadko Hadzihasanovic, Johanna Householder, Luis Jacob, Vera Jacyk, Janet Jones, Sholem Krishtalka, Will Kwan, Yam Lau, JJ Lee, Nina Leo, Melissa Levin, Nina Levitt, Micah Lexier, Jennifer Linton, Jennifer Long, Rafael Lozano Hemmer, Ken Lum, Virginia Mak, Scott Massey, Joanna McEwen, Kent Monkman, Georg Muehleck, Nancy Nicol, Andrew James Paterson, Ed Pien, Diane Pugen, Amin Rehman, Arthur Renwick, Judith Schwarz, John Scott, Judy Singer, Yvonne Singer, P. Roch Smith, Lisa Stinner, Shaan Syed, Nell Tenhaaf, Scott Waters, Elaine Whittaker, and Jin-Me Yoon, with Keynote Speaker Naomi Klein donating her presentation.

Read Steve Kurtz’s Thank You Letter to Supporters.