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BP Will Cease Controversial Tate Sponsorship

Liberate Tate's "Human Cost" performance (2011) at Tate Britain (photo by Amy Scaife, courtesy Liberate Tate)
Liberate Tate’s “Human Cost” performance (2011) at Tate Britain (photo by Amy Scaife, courtesy Liberate Tate)

Energy giant BP will cease its sponsorship of Tate in 2017. The Independent reported that the company and the chain of British museums have decided not to renew their partnership, which has been one of Tate’s most prominent corporate sponsorships for the past 26 years. Both BP and Tate were quick to deny that the decision was taken due to pressure from Liberate Tate, Platform London, and other artist collectives and organizations that have raised awareness of and opposition to the sponsorship.

“They are free to express their points of view but our decision wasn’t influenced by that,” a BP spokesperson told the Independent. “It was a business decision.”

BP signage at Tate Britain (photo by Rizka Budiati Szkutnik/Flickr)
BP signage at Tate Britain (photo by Rizka Budiati Szkutnik/Flickr) (click to enlarge)

But members of Liberate Tate see the decision as a victory and proof that protests, performance art actions, and public outcry can help spur changes at museums.

“Their feeling that they needed to say that it’s not a response to the protests makes it clear that it is about that,” Mel Evans, a member of Liberate Tate and author of Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts, told Hyperallergic. “We had a lot of plans for this year because we kew it was a crucial time. We knew the renewal was going to be discussed at a board meeting in July, but we didn’t know the decision would come so soon.”

BP has sponsored various exhibitions and programs at Tate since 1990, and its former chief executive, John Browne, has been the chairman of Tate’s board of trustees since 2009. Last year an information tribunal forced Tate to disclose the sums it had received from the energy giant (whose profits in 2015 totaled $6.48 billion). The figures were surprisingly low, ranging from £150,000 to £330,000 (~$225,800–497,550) annually, for a total of £3.8 million (~$5.7 million) between 1990 and 2006. For the 2006–07 fiscal year, money received from BP accounted for just 0.437% of Tate’s total income.

While BP’s support of Tate may have come under the most public scrutiny to date, it’s not the only cultural sponsorship undertaken by the company. In London it also sponsors the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and its BP Portrait Award, and the Royal Opera House.

“We hope that this decision by Tate, which is so influential, puts pressure on other museums and cultural groups to cut their ties with BP and the fossil fuel industry,” Evans said. “It really shows the power of grassroots groups and artist coalitions to make this kind of change. Six years ago this outcome seemed impossible.”

Contacted for comment, a Tate spokesperson sent Hyperallergic the following statement regarding the split from BP:

BP has decided it will not be renewing its sponsorship of the displays and other activities at Tate in 2017. The BP/Tate partnership has been an outstanding example of patronage and collaboration over nearly thirty years. It represents one of the most significant long-term corporate investments in UK arts and culture. Tate wishes to express its gratitude to BP for its longstanding commitment and ground-breaking support of the Collection displays and other programmes.

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