Leading members of Britain’s arts, cultural and scientific communities have called on a number of UK museums and galleries to terminate proposed sponsorship deals with oil company BP.
Yesterday’s Times featured a letter organised by the Art Not Oil coalition protesting the deals. Earlier this year, we reported that Art Not Oil had obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act suggesting BP may have inappropriately influenced the operations of several leading museums. Under the proposed new agreements the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Opera House and Royal Shakespeare Company would receive £7.5 million from BP over 5 years.
The 214 signatories to the letter, which included Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance and artist Conrad Atkinson, accused BP of using art sponsorship to develop its interests in oil extraction with devastating impacts for climate change. ‘BP is not welcome to use our culture to promote its destructive business – these deals must be cancelled,’ the letter stated.
This is not the first time BP sponsorship of the arts has been met with a chorus of disapproval. In April this year, theatrical protest group ‘BP or not BP?’ occupied the Great Court of the British Museum with a ‘Disobedient Exhibition’ in protest over BP sponsorship. The following month, the Museum was temporarily closed after Greenpeace activists scaled the towering columns at the front entrance and unfurled huge banners with the names of cities threatened by rising sea levels. Activists have promised further disruption including a public ‘Splashmob – A mass public underwater-themed finvasion‘ at the British Museum in September.
The institutions which stand to gain from BP sponsorship insist their activities would not be possible without contributions from the business sector. The British Museum expressed gratitude to BP for funding exhibitions which have been ‘enjoyed by millions of visitors to the museum and have deepened understanding of the world’s many cultures and their interconnectedness‘. The Royal Shakespeare Company said BP sponsorship had helped to ‘introduce a new audience to Shakespeare and live theatre‘ by reducing ticket prices.
Signatories to yesterday’s letter argue that this support ‘comes with strings attached‘. ‘We cannot afford another five years of BP-branded culture. We believe museums, theatres and galleries are public institutions that must play a positive role in taking urgent climate action and defending human rights‘, the letter stated.