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Tate Reveals Surprisingly Low Sum of BP Sponsorship Deal [UPDATED]

A photo from "Hidden Figures," Liberate Tate's most recent performance intervention at Tate Modern, referencing Kazimir Malevich's "Black Square." (photo via Liberate Tate/Facebook)
A photo from “Hidden Figures,” Liberate Tate’s most recent performance intervention at Tate Modern, referencing Kazimir Malevich’s “Black Square.” (photo via Liberate Tate/Facebook)

After years of legal wrangling, the Tate museums group has finally disclosed the details of its sponsorship agreement with oil company BP. The information includes figures from the years 1990–2006, over which time BP gave the institution between £150,000 and £330,000 (~$225,800–497,550) annually, adding up to a total £3.8 million (~$5.7 million). The numbers, which were released today by the arts and activism organization Platform London, are much lower than some observers expected.

Platform London has been battling together with public interest nonprofit Request Initiative and the law firms Leigh Day and Monckton Chambers for three years to get Tate to disclose the BP details, under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act. After a series of requests, redacted disclosures, challenges, and appeals, an information tribunal decided in December that Tate needed to reveal the figures, giving the institution 35 days to do so. The deadline was today.

The numbers show that BP’s sponsorship of Tate began at £300,000 in 1990, but quickly halved in size the following year. The sum didn’t increase again until 2000, when BP gave £250,000, and two years later jumped to £330,000, where it remained until 2006. Platform put the BP numbers in context as percentages of Tate’s “self-generated income (including trusts, trading, donations, sponsorship, other)” and total income during those years. In both cases, the percentages were small for almost the entire 16-year period. In 2006–07, BP money accounted for 0.740% of Tate’s self-generated income and 0.437% of its total income.

“The figures are embarrassingly small — even less than we expected,” Anna Galkina of Platform London told Hyperallergic. “What’s also surprised me is that BP’s share in Tate’s self-generated income has fallen from 17.6% in 1990 to less than 1% in 2000 and has stayed low since then. This means that Tate could now easily do without BP — and refuse to give oil the cultural credibility that lets BP continue trashing our climate and devastating communities.”

The newly disclosed documents also include minutes from an Ethics Committee meeting in 2010, which reviewed BP’s Tate sponsorship. In them the committee acknowledges:

Tate has taken a public stance on sustainability and is arguably the cultural institution most in the public eye in the UK. In light of this the reputational risk to Tate of retaining BP as a partner is significant.

But offers the counterargument:

Taking a moral stance on the ethics of the Oil and Gas sector remains outside of Tate’s charitable objectives.

And ultimately concludes:

The Executive view is that currently the benefits of BP’s support for Tate far outweigh any quantifiable risk to our reputation.

Those protesting the Tate-BP deal naturally disagree. Jane Shellac, a member of the art collective Liberate Tate, which has staged a number of actions and interventions at the museums about this issue, wrote the following to Hyperallergic over email:

It’s been very convenient for Tate to maintain a discourse that its hands are tied, that in the current tough climate for arts funding it would be far too challenging for it to drop BP sponsorship. But the smallness of the sums involved relative to Tate’s huge operating budget clearly demonstrates that Tate is choosing to maintain this sponsorship relationship at great detriment to the credibility of its ethics.

Tate is clearly suffering from an institutional inertia of over 20 years of BP sponsorship, not helped by having the ex CEO of BP John Browne as the chair of its trustees. The public is no longer fooled into thinking BP sponsorship is in any way essential to the arts, so it’s high time that Tate acted in a way that was coherent with its sustainability policies and cut its ties with BP. The average gallery goer does not want to be made complicit in the destruction wrought by tar sands extraction in Canada, and the devastation that’s still being felt along the Gulf Coast, through the association of BP with their Tate experience.

Tate seems committed to maintaining its ties with BP — which is the art institution’s longest-running sponsor — for now, at least. According to the Guardian, the institution issued a statement today commenting on the release, saying “the figures represented ‘considerable funding’ and that BP was ‘one of the most important sponsors of the arts in the UK.'” Hyperallergic reached out to Tate for comment but has not yet received a response.

Galkina, meanwhile, said the next step in the campaign will be to get Tate to disclose the more recent BP sponsorship figures, since 2007. “What we need is a movement of cultural institutions and professionals going beyond oil,” she said.

Update, 1/27, 10:40am ET: Tate has sent us a response. It follows in full:

The Tribunal upheld many of Tate’s redactions and also required the release of some elements of the FOI request including the release of pre 2007 historic figures for BP funding. The Tribunal commended Tate for being thorough and open in its approach to the case. The Tribunal’s finding was that, in this case, the pre-2007 figures were sufficiently historic for disclosure not to be harmful to Tate. Tate has therefore released pre-2007 historic figures for BP funding to the requester. The cumulative commitment of these funds totals almost £4 million for the period 1990-2006. This is considerable funding.

Tate had already released a considerable amount of detail in the papers of the Ethics Committee. The Tribunal upheld many of Tate’s redactions in these papers and required the release of a number of further elements. These relate to BP’s activities which were reviewed by the Ethics Committee as part of the discussion about continuing the sponsorship.

BP is one of the most important sponsors of the arts in the UK supporting Tate as well as several other leading cultural institutions.

Tate works with a wide range of corporate organisations and generates the majority of its funding from earned income and private sources. The support that these organisations give is extremely important and allows us to deliver a hugely successful and popular programme. The Tate Trustees first agreed a sponsorship policy in 1991, and more recently incorporated its principles within an Ethics Policy in 2008. The Board and Ethics Committee regularly review compliance with the policy. BP has worked with Tate since 1990 and fits within the guidelines of this policy. Its support has been instrumental in helping Tate develop access to the Tate Collection and to present changing displays of work by a wide range of artists in the national collection of British Art.

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