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Hundreds of Cultural Workers and Institutions Pledge to Refuse Fossil Fuel Money

Tate Britain (image via Wikimedia)
Tate Britain (image via Wikimedia)

If you’re an artist who’s complained about the oil industry and the way fossil fuel extraction is damaging the environment, you now have a chance to put your money where your mouth is.

The climate change activist organization Platform London has launched Fossil Funds Free, a campaign that asks artists, photographers, playwrights, and other cultural producers to pledge to refuse sponsorship, grants, and awards from companies like BP and Shell. Those who join will be able to slap a Fossil Funds Free logo on their work and exhibitions, letting collectors and visitors know that they’re not supported by oil companies.

“The climate crisis is the most urgent collective challenge of our time,” Anna Galkina, a spokesperson for Platform London, told Hyperallergic. “That’s why the point of the Fossil Funds Free commitment is to facilitate this responsibility, in two ways. Firstly, through refusing fossil fuel sponsorship for one’s work. And secondly, through raising the issue with any gallery or organization that a participant works with that does take fossil fuel sponsorship.”

The logo for Platform's Fossil Funds Free program (logo by MinuteWorks, courtesy Platform)
The logo for Platform London’s Fossil Funds Free program (logo by MinuteWorks, courtesy Platform London)

Cultural organizations are also invited to take the pledge and refuse sponsorships from oil companies. “What we’re aiming for is a wide cultural sector refusal to promote fossil fuels,” Galkina said.

More than 200 individuals, groups, and organizations have already made the commitment. They include conceptual artist Hans Haacke, photographer Raul Martinez, and playwright Caryl Churchill, as well as organizations like Artsadmin and the Royal Court Theatre.

The campaigners argue that the arts and culture sector has a huge responsibility to reject oil industry money because of the prestige that arts and culture connote. Sponsoring artists and museums offers oil companies the ability to check their corporate social responsibility box in a way that distracts from their seedier operations. Galkina believes a cultural boycott threatens their business.

“BP’s logos on Tate don’t just advertise the company to a targeted influential audience for something comparable to the price of a big central London billboard,” she said. “They also enable BP to tap into Tate’s connections in the cultural world and government and invite BP managers to mingle with celebrities, diplomatic, and government elites.”

What’s more, the campaign organizers say that accepting funding from oil companies makes cultural workers and organizations susceptible to their influence. In June, for instance, the Guardian obtained emails between BP and the Science Museum in London that showed the company seemingly trying to pressure the institution to alter its climate change exhibits. BP also has sponsorship deals with the Tate, the British Museum, the Royal Opera House, and the National Portrait Gallery, and it funds the annual BP Portrait Award.

Platform London thinks the cultural sector can do without the oil industry’s money. BP’s sponsorship of Tate Britain makes up only .5% of its total income, and UK institutions across the board are relying less and less on sponsorships anyway. And while it may be more difficult for artists to give up funding, some have made that choice. Last year Richard DeDomenici turned down a project at Tate Britain because of that institution’s sponsorship deal with BP.

“Whatever the topics and themes of one’s work, artists have some responsibility for what that work does in the world,” Galkina said. “That includes what the work does by bearing (or not bearing) sponsor logos.”

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