The Henry C. Turner Prize, a major innovation award annually bestowed by the National Building Museum, was scheduled to be presented to manufacturer Caterpillar on Wednesday evening, but the event was canceled because organizers feared that political protests would overshadow the ceremony.
“We were concerned that potential disruptions to the public ceremony would divert attention from the purpose of the prize, which is to recognize innovation in construction engineering,” said a news release distributed Wednesday afternoon.
Caterpillar, a major maker of heavy machinery, has drawn criticism from some activist groups for its participation in the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.
When the company was announced as recipient of the 2011 prize — which has previously been awarded to Engineers Without Borders-USA, I.M. Pei and the U.S. Green Building Council — a coalition of protesters launched a letter-writing campaign. The push was spearheaded by the Rachel Corrie Foundation, named after the American woman killed by a bulldozer in Gaza. Foundation co-founder Craig Corrie says that the petition was signed by 150 organizations.
“We not only understand, but support the decision to cancel the event itself,” said Jim Dugan, a spokesman for Caterpillar. “The museum is an apolitical organization, and it became clear that the event was going to be politicized.”
Dugan said the decision to cancel the ceremony was made last week, after multiple communications with the company. “We appreciate that we’ve been given the award . . . and didn’t see any reason to have it turned into a political thing.”
Though the official ceremony was canceled, Caterpillar is still the winner of the Turner Prize. On Wednesday, several protesters gathered outside the Building Museum to ask that the honor be taken away as well.
“The fact that they’ve decided not to go through with the ceremony is one step,” said Corrie, who is Rachel Corrie’s father, “But they’re still giving the award.”
“There will be an award that formally will be given,” Dugan said, but the details of when and where “will not be released.”