Saudi Arabia’s financial prominence in the arts has been under active evaluation in the weeks after journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance
In recent weeks, arts institutions have been forced to make decisions regarding their financial ties to Saudi Arabia as they grapple with the Saudi government’s alleged hand in Khashoggi’s killing. Recently, the Brooklyn Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art chose to deny funds from the Misk Institue (an arts organization founded and backed by MBS), and Columbia University announced a public conversation with Ahmed Mater, Misk’s director, would not take place.
On October 19, Russia announced its plan to continue its support of Saudi Arabia, confirming its decision to participate in the Initiative. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) has organized a delegation of over 30 Russian business, culture, and government giants to “contribute to talks and consultations on their specialist fields, and meet with the leadership of the Kingdom and key Saudi partners.” In a statement, it also announced its intention to bring a 20th-century Russian art exhibition of works by Wassily Kandinsky and Pavel Filonov, from the State Russian Museum to Saudi Arabia.
Despite Russia doubling down on its Saudi relations, Saudi Arabia has encountered a major hiccup in its development of a $500 billion megacity. NEOM, set to be a 10,000-square-mile metropolis on the coast of the Red Sea, was announced at a 2017 conference in Riyadh by Bin Salman.
On October 9 of 2018, just seven days after Khashoggi’s reported assassination, the 19 members of NEOM’s advisory board were announced, including notable figures in the field of architecture and design. Quickly, the name of Jonathan Ive (Apple’s chief design officer) was removed, and only 18 remained.
It seems the only architectural participant remaining is Carlo Ratti (of MIT’s Senseable Cities Lab), who told the Architect’s Newspaper, “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.”