As the narrative continues to unravel around the disappearance and killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, members and institutions of the global creative community are responding to the international crisis by distancing themselves from projects funded by the Saudi government and its affiliates.
Among them is Neom, the $500 billion “smart city” mega-development that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had announced last year. The futuristic territory, slated for ground-up construction across more than 10,000 square miles in the Saudi desert, was hailed as the cornerstone of the country’s strategy to transform its economy and infuse the region with foreign investments by 2030. Now that many of the 19 architecture and design leaders listed on the project’s advisory board earlier this month have abruptly withdrawn from participation, however, the future of that prospect seems uncertain.
Apple’s chief design officer, Jonathan Ive. was among the first to quietly withdraw his name from the board. A week after news broke on Khashoggi’s disappearance on Oct. 2, Apple confirmed, in very few words, that Ive’s inclusion was “a mistake.” Several other prominent design figures–including architect Norman Foster, Carlo Ratti of MIT’s Senseable Cities Lab, Ideo president and CEO Tim Brown, and former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick–have distanced themselves as well.
“Earlier this week, Lord Foster wrote to the head of the NEOM Advisory Board stating that whilst the situation remains unclear he has suspended his activities in respect of the Board,” a representative from Foster+Partners confirmed with the Architect’s Newspaper. Meanwhile, Ratti’s office provided the following statement: “Both Carlo and our team are gravely concerned about the Khashoggi case. We are monitoring the situation closely as it develops hour by hour. We are waiting for the results of the U.S. investigation to evaluate the best course of action.” And Dan Doctoroff’s publicist wrote to Fast Company, simply stating: “Dan Doctoroff’s inclusion on that list is incorrect. He is not a member of the NEOM advisory board.”
Neom is among the latest projects to respond to the Khashoggi case, with institutions and businesses across sectors responding as well. Notably in the cultural sector, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art also announced last week that it would reject funding from the Saudi government for its yearlong Arab Art and Education initiative, opting to continue it as an entirely self-funded event. Similarly, in a statement to the New York Times, Brooklyn Museum officials shared that “in light of recent events and in harmony with the international community’s concerns,” it would deny monetary donations from groups tied to the Saudi government for its exhibition, Syria Then and Now: Stories from Refugees a Century Apart, which opened on Oct. 13.