Art becomes action when two artists launch a project to cancel more than £1m of high-interest debt from a local community


In the shadow of the towers of London’s financial centre, Canary Wharf, a golden Ford Transit van explodes. With this single act, £1.2 million of high interest ‘toxic debt’ is cancelled for a London community.

This ‘Big Bang 2’ was the culmination of an art project by filmmaker and artist duo, Hilary Powell and Dan Edelstyn, made in response to the financial crash of 2008. Since then, COVID-19 and the economic injustices it has laid bare are yet another cat­alyst for a much-needed change to our financial systems. Bank Job, and its accompanying film, celebrate how Art can become action—how it can empower and inspire.

Bank Job tells the white-knuckle adventure story of one London-based couple who were so fed up of an economic structure that pushes creative people like them to the fringes of society, they decided to use their passion, education and talent to make a stand. Influenced by the Strike Debt movement in the US that opened their eyes to the dark heart of the financial system, they set up a printing press in a disused bank in Walthamstow, East London, and printed their own banknotes. The faces of local unsung heroes in their community replaced the traditional figures we are used to seeing on bank notes, and when the notes were sold as art, it was these stalwarts of society who benefited financially—their debt paid off.

The movement engaged a wealth of support both locally and from around the globe showing in no uncertain terms the wide­spread desire to free everyday people from the opaque language and corrupt traps of loans, in a country where it has become harder and harder to pay bills on time. In the UK, one in eight civilians is classified as ‘working poor.’

Both a daring tale and a deeply personal memoir, Bank Job opens with honest reflections of the authors’ own experiences of debt through the eyes of their childhood and into their adult life, and goes on to examine the wider impact of a society that for too long has entangled the concept of money with a person’s identity. Furthermore, for many readers, their book is also an empowering education about money. Dan and Hilary write, ‘If 85% of our politicians don’t understand how money is created, there is an urgent need for some far-reaching economic education—not only to help us understand the system as it is, but to take the next step in reimagining it.’