Activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR) has refused its Designs of the Year shortlist place, turning down the nomination because of the Design Museum awards’ sponsor, insurance company Beazley.
XR, which campaigns around climate and ecological crisis, is calling on the insurance industry to “tell the truth to the British public”, urging for transparency on the notion that “without urgent and radical action on the climate and wider ecological crisis their insurance policies are at risk”.
Tim Crosland, from Extinction Rebellion’s legal strategy team, says, “The insurance industry is the one part of our economy that is designed to have regard to the longer term future.
“As Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has indicated, the climate crisis is an urgent threat to the insurance industry itself. Already insurers are going out of business in California, unable to meet their liabilities from wildfires. More and more property in the UK is becoming uninsurable due to flood risk. Yet the industry is failing to disclose the resulting financial risks to the ordinary people who are their customers.”
He adds: “People are paying into life insurance policies on a monthly basis, without being warned of the risk the policy may never pay out, because of the fundamental risk the climate crisis presents to the industry’s business model.”
Clare Farrell, a member of the Art Group, which creates the designed output for XR, has described the scenario as another example of a “major cultural institution attempting to ‘artwash’ the unacceptable behaviours of its financial backers. For Extinction Rebellion to be co-opted by an organisation like Beazley runs counter to our movement’s values.” She adds: “We are in the business of refusing business as usual, and the insurance industry, which supports the mitigation of financial loss caused by immoral environmental practices is not something we can have anything to do with.”
We spoke with the Extinction Rebellion Art Group during its London protests in April this year.
The other shortlisted designs are yet to be announced, with public nominations now closed and the show opening in September showcasing entrants across the Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Graphics, Product and Transport categories.
The overall winner for 2018 was the ICA exhibition Counter Investigations: Forensic Architecture.
This isn’t the first time that the Design Museum has faced controversy in recent years. The 2018 show Nope to Hope saw around a third of its artists pull their works in protest at the Kensington-based institution’s hosting of a private event by defence company Leonardo. The artists signed an open letter addressed to the museum on the CAAT (Campaign Against Arms Trade) site in light of the event. The artists involved in the protest included Occupy Design Collective, Keep it Complex Make it Clear, Tim Fishlock (Oddly Head) and This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll, whose founders include Clive Russell of the XR Art Group.
The Design of the Year isn’t the only major arts prize under fire, either. The 2019 Turner Prize, which opens in September at Margate’s Turner Contemporary, recently announced that it would be withdrawing from its sponsorship by Stagecoach South East. The move was made just a day after the sponsor was revealed, with a piece on the Guardian reporting that the Stagecoach Group chair Sir Brian Souter had, in 2000, given £1m to a campaign to keep the anti-gay section 28 in Scottish law. Souter has also been vocal in criticising gay marriage, earning him a 2011 nomination for charity Stonewall’s Bigot of the Year title.
XR is now calling on other nominees to follow their lead and refuse inclusion in the exhibition.