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Rwanda Exhibit at UN Raises Cash for Nonprofit Not Approved by IRS

By Lisha Arino | June 20, 2014 7:10am
 The artist behind "800,000 Acknoweledge. Remember. Renew," which is currently on view at the United Nations, will move forward with plans to showcase the large-scale installation at the Old Bowery Station on June 29 and collect money for a nonprofit that funds projects in Rwanda, even though the organization lost its tax-exempt status two years ago.
'800,000 Acknoweledge. Remember. Renew.'
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LOWER EAST SIDE — An artist whose exhibit on the Rwandan genocide is on display at the United Nations is using the show to raise money for a nonprofit that is no longer federally recognized, records show.

William Snyder III — a Pennsylvania-based artist whose large-scale installation “800,000 Acknowledge. Remember. Renew” is showing at the U.N.'s 42nd Street headquarters through June 27 — is soliciting donations on the exhibit's website for The Kayinamura Foundation, which he founded and describes as a "registered 501c3 [that] administers funds for projects in Rwanda."

But The Kayinamura Foundation, which Snyder started in 2007, had its federal tax-exempt nonprofit status revoked by the IRS in 2012 because Snyder has not filed necessary paperwork with the federal government since 2008, according to the IRS’s online database. Though the group remains a registered nonprofit in Snyder's home state of Pennsylvania, officials said, it is not recognized by the IRS.

When asked about the foundation on Wednesday, Snyder said he was not aware that it was no longer a federally recognized nonprofit.

"I'm going to look into that," he said.

By Thursday morning, Snyder had scrubbed most of the references to a 501(c)(3) from the "800,000 Acknowledge" website. But he continued to call it a 501(c)(3) on part of the website and also continued soliciting donations on pages promoting the exhibit's next stop at The Old Bowery Station on the Lower East Side June 29.

A U.N. spokeswoman declined to comment on Snyder using the "800,000" exhibit to raise money but said that the U.N. does not allow outside groups to raise money in its headquarters.

Since 2007, Snyder has been collecting between $1 and $5 for donors to ink their hand prints onto one of the 800,000 pieces of paper currently on display at the U.N. — one for each of the estimated number of victims of the bloody 1994 ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis — with the promise that the funds will go toward the war-torn nation.

Donors can also buy T-shirts and magnets featuring images of the U.N. installation through his website and at the upcoming Lower East Side exhibit.

Snyder said Wednesday that the funds will go toward as-yet-undefined projects to help Rwandans, although he said the criteria for awarding the grants are "nebulous." He said grant projects could focus on education, sanitation, child welfare or economic development.

In the past seven years, The Kayinamura Foundation has raised $3,500 and used the money to build a water distribution pipe that gave residents of the town Gitarama access to fresh water, Snyder said.

He raised $8,248 to transport the work to the U.N. and The Old Bowery Station through a Kickstarter campaign.

According to IRS records, the group reported taking in less than $25,000 each year in 2007 and 2008, but exact numbers raised were not available.

A paralegal representing the foundation said in an emailed statement that Kayinamura can continue operating even without federal tax-exempt status.

"The loss of 501(c)(3) status, while affecting the ability of the Kayinamura Foundation to obtain grant funding and for a donor to obtain a personal tax deduction for the contributions they make to the charity, does not prohibit the Kayinamura Foundation from continuing its nonprofit status and its mission," Lori Grube wrote.

"It simply classifies the Kayinamura Foundation as a different type of nonprofit organization under the tax code."

Snyder, 34, started the "800,000" project during his second year of graduate school at Pennsylvania State University, where he studied printmaking.

He said he “knew nothing" about Rwanda when he met Yohani Kayinamura, a Rwandan who was in Pennsylvania visiting a friend. Snyder later named his foundation after him.

Kayinamura, who now lives in Florida, said he is not involved in the foundation's operations, although an orphanage he runs, the Umuryango Children's Network, received funds from the organization to build the water distribution pipe.

"I haven’t talked with him for quite some time [about the foundation], but I know that when he started the efforts, he meant well and wanted to help," Kayinamura said.

Snyder completed the exhibit in 2006 with the help of more than 100 volunteers and since then it has been shown in Pennsylvania, including the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. It was also shown at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York and was part of the DownStreet Art program in North Adams, Massachusetts.

He is scheduled to speak at The Old Bowery Station on June 29 as part of his one-day show there. Representatives from The Old Bowery Station declined to comment.