Activists protesting outside of the Design Museum in London after it hosted a private event for an international arms dealer. Photo: @reclaimourbard / Twitter.

London’s Design Museum Returns Works to Artists Amid Backlash over Arms Dealer Event

The Design Museum in London, which recently came under fire for hosting a private event for an international arms dealer, has returned nearly thirty works to their creators after they publicly condemned the institution for supporting the weapons manufacturing company and demanded that their works be taken down.

The works were pulled from the exhibition “Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008–18,” which explores politically charged graphic designs over the last decade—ranging from Shepard Fairey’s 2008 Hope poster of Barack Obama to the “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. After learning about the drinks reception the museum held for the Italian defense company Leonardo—estimated to be the ninth largest arms company in the world—a group of artists, designers, and activists penned an open letter in protest.

It read: “It is deeply hypocritical for the museum to display and celebrate the work of radical anti-corporate artists and activists, while quietly supporting and profiting from one of the most destructive and deadly industries in the world. ‘Hope to Nope’ is making the museum appear progressive and cutting-edge, while its management and trustees are happy to take blood money from arms dealers.”

The artists also stressed that their anger over the museum’s ties to the arms firm is directed at management and not the curators or staff members involved with the exhibition, which has received more than 30,000 visitors since it opened in March. The signatories asked the museum to take down their works by August 1, eleven days before the exhibition was slated to close. If it failed to do so, they planned to show up to the institution to remove the pieces themselves.

When the group arrived at the museum on Thursday, August 2, ready to lift their works off the museum’s walls, they were already packaged for transport and waiting for them. Staff at the museum had replaced each piece that it removed with signs that said: “This artwork was removed at the request of the lender who has objected to a private event by an aerospace and defense company that was held at the Design Museum.” At least one third of the works on view have been pulled from the show.

While the museum is not the first to be targeted by protesters who reject sponsors or funding from companies they believe are unethical—recently, cultural institutions have faced backlash for accepting support from the Sackler family, who is largely blamed for the United States’ ongoing opioid crisis—it is rare for so many works to be withdrawn from a show at once.  

In response to the controversy, the directors of the Design Museum, Deyan Sudjic and Alice Black, issued a statement on the museum’s website that criticized those protesting the museum, which did not sit well with many of the artists. “The outcome of these protests will be to censor the exhibition, curtail free speech, and prevent the museum from showcasing a plurality of views,” it read. It also noted that the Design Museum was in discussion with the exhibitors and that it would commit to not holding any more private events before taking the time to consult with its peers in the museum industry and review its institutional policies.

The museum also announced that, due to the large number of missing works, those visiting the exhibition in the days leading up to its closing date will not have to pay admission.


According to the Evening Standard, the artists who demanded that their works be taken down are planning an alternative show. Many of the pieces will be on view in an exhibition, which has the working title of “From Nope to Hope,” as part of the London Design Festival, taking place at various locations throughout the city from September 15 to September 23.