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Tate Doesn’t Want to Disclose Details of BP Sponsorship

(photo © Martin LeSanto-Smith 2013 , courtesy Liberate Tate)
Protestors opposed to the Tate’s endorsement deal with petroleum companies in a November 23, 2013, action at Tate Britain (© Martin LeSanto-Smith 2013) (courtesy Liberate Tate)

The Tate yesterday filed an appeal to a court order that would require the museum to release information relating to its controversial sponsorship deal with British Petroleum (BP), Hyperallergic has learned. This development is the latest in an ongoing dispute between the Tate and anti-BP activists seeking to use Britain’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to shed light on the institution’s funding from the oil-and-gas giant. The original FOIA request, filed in December 2011 by activist Glen Tarman for board minutes and other internal documents connected with a renewal of BP’s sponsorship deal, resulted in delayed then redacted disclosures from the Tate on February 16, 2012.

The documents released then indicated that the Tate’s board ethics committee had assessed the partnership with BP, noting that the company “has supported Tate since 1990, making BP Tate’s longest-established sponsor.” But financial and other key details of the relationship were all redacted from the texts provided, resulting in passages that read as follows:

The current level of giving is Information has been exempted under Section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Tate anticipates that the sponsorship will be renewed at Information has been exempted under Section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000  

In response, activists brought in Brendan Montague, an attorney from the Request Initiative, a London-based legal advocacy group focused on “information law in the public interest,” to challenge the disclosures. This prompted two rulings from the British Information Commissioner, the first one, in December 2013, upholding the Tate’s redaction of the internal documents, which Montague appealed. This led to a second decision on March 4, 2014, which found that the Tate “correctly withheld some of the requested information” but ordered the disclosure of certain previously redacted facts. Montague’s original request, filed April 12, 2012, successfully sought the release of “any confidentiality agreement” between BP and Tate; the museum declined the other part of his request, for details of its funding from BP “for each of the past 23 years.”

The Tate’s deadline for appealing this ruling was April 2, hence Monday’s notification of appeal. The rationale for the appeal is essentially that the Tate would be in “breach of confidence” of its relationship with BP should it disclose the amount of money the company has paid it, because that information was allegedly provided to the Tate “on a confidential basis.” This reasoning is laid out in detail in a court document filed yesterday by Tate attorney Robin Hopkins and made available to Hyperallergic.

The case will now head to court. Kevin Smith, an oil sponsorship campaigner with Platform, the London-based nonprofit working with Request Initiative on moving the case forward, told Hyperallergic in an email that he believes “either Tate has something particularly outrageous to hide that would provoke people to engage in more protest against BP sponsorship, or it’s casually misusing a really important piece of information law in order to routinely suppress information.” Liberate Tate, a “creative disobedience” group founded in January 2010 to oppose the museum’s petrodollar funding, has staged multiple protests against the museum, making headlines with some frequency for these actions.

Update and Correction, 4/2: An earlier version of this article misstated the scope of the disclosures mandated by the Information Commissioner’s March ruling. Hyperallergic unsuccessfully sought comment from the Tate prior to the article’s publication; a representative has since noted the aforementioned correction and added that the museum declined to comment further “as these proceedings are ongoing.”

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