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Artists Demand Answers One Year After Withdrawing Work From London Design Museum

After London’s Design Museum housed an event hosted by the arms manufacturer Leonardo, more than 40 artists removed their work from an exhibition. The collective says the museum has failed to address their concerns regarding funding policy in the year following.

A view of the Hope to Nope exhibition (image provided by Charlie Waterhouse)

A year ago, more than 40 artists removed their work from the exhibition Hope to Nope at the Design Museum in London after the museum housed an event hosted by the arms manufacturer Leonardo. At the time, the museum assured the protesting artists, who organized in a group named Nope to Arms, that it will review its due diligence policy related to commercial and fundraising activities. In a statement released today, August 2, Nope to Arms Collective claims that the museum has failed to make good on its promises.

“A year has passed and the museum has apparently done nothing,” Nope to Arms said in its statement. “It has not responded to our requests for an update for many months. There is no publicly available information about its due diligence policy on its website and nothing has been press released on the subject,” the statement continued. The artists also expressed their concerns around the chairman of the board of trustees, Peter Mandelson’s business relationships with arms and oil companies.

The controversy erupted in July last year after the Design Museum was the venue for an event organized by arms manufacturer Leonardo. The event occurred in conjunction with a museum discussion held the same evening, discussing social media and design’s purpose in social justice movements, a move the protesters call hypocritical. On July 25, 2018, a group of 30 artists signed a statement asking to remove their works from the exhibition. About a week later, 10 more artists joined the group, leaving the exhibition empty of a third of its artworks. Furthermore, the artists held a protest outside the museum and later showed their withdrawn works in an alternative DIY exhibition at the Brixton Recreation Centre in London. Members of Nope to Arms include world-renowned artists like Shepard Fairey, Milton Glaser, Dread Scott, and the Guerrilla Girls. In response to the withdrawals, the Design Museum said in a statement at the time, “we take the response to last week’s event seriously and we are reviewing our due diligence policy related to our commercial and fundraising activities. Our review will be thorough and it will need the approval of our Board of Trustees.”

“We are concerned that the museum’s silence means that it has quietly dropped the matter, hoping that we will do the same. But we will not,” Nope to Arms said in today’s statement. “The museum’s chair of trustees may not take these issues seriously, but we do.” The group asked the museum to publicly answer a series of questions about its promised policy review. “Anything less than a decision to rule out future funding from arms, oil and tobacco companies (as they committed to temporarily while undertaking the review) would suggest that the museum  is not willing to learn from its mistakes, or has calculated that it can take the money and run while avoiding further scrutiny.”

In a response sent to Hyperallergic today, London’s Design Museum wrote:

Last year the Design Museum undertook a review of its process of accepting bookings for private events at the museum. At the same time we also reviewed the framework for our fundraising activities. The review took account of legislation governing charities, and learned from the best practices used by our peers and the guidance of professional bodies associated with the sector.

Any not-for-profit organisation such as charities, hospitals, museums, galleries, schools and universities which is reliant on fundraising and income generation to deliver the services that they offer to the public must address the increased scrutiny which they rightly face.

The Design Museum went on to say that the outcome of its review went through the museum’s usual process of committee and trustee meetings, and that it will review funding proposals “on a case by case basis.” The result of the review of the museum’s corporate hire booking process is now available as part of its annual review, the museum explained. “We are confident that this procedure will provide an appropriate guide for the future and the museum will keep all income generating frameworks under regular review,” it said.

In its 2017-18 Annual Review, under the heading “Event Hire Consultation”, the Design Museum writes, “The income from hiring the museum to third parties supports the development of exhibitions and the museum’s work with young people and schools. Following an event at the end of July the museum undertook a review of how and to whom the museum’s spaces could be hired. As a result of this the museum is satisfied that robust procedures for event hire bookings are in place and are consistent with those of our cultural venue peers.”

Nope to Arm’s statement comes at a time of increased scrutiny over British museums’ links to the oil and arms industries. In a public forum held at the British Museum on Wednesday, July 31, environmental groups asked the museum to cut its ties with the fossil fuel company BP. Richard Lambert, chair of the British Museum’s board of trustees, defended BP’s sponsorship, saying the museum was under “tight” financial pressure as it lost a third of its public funding since 2010. “[BP] have supported exhibitions that have allowed nearly 5 million people to come and see objects at the British Museum. It’s very important and valuable to us,” Lambert said. In July, one of the museum’s trustees, Ahdaf Soueif, resigned with damning words over the museum’s endorsement of BP, it’s silence on the restitution of cultural artifacts, and its stances on labor issues. Commenting on Soueif’s resignation, Lambert said he was saddened by her decision but still hasn’t changed his position. “She had not expressed those concerns in that forceful way before,” Lambert said. “We obviously discussed afterwards as a board what our position on sponsorship should be and we have not changed our mind.”

Editors note 8/2/19 4:00pm: This article has been updated to further clarify that the Design Museum housed the event hosted by Leonardo.

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