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Arts Professionals Condemn BP’s Renewed Cultural Sponsorships in the UK

Performers from the Art Not Oil coalition call for an end to BP sponsorship at the British Museum last September (photo by Anna Branthwaite, all courtesy Art Not Oil)
Performers from the Art Not Oil coalition call for an end to BP sponsorship at the British Museum last September (photo by Anna Branthwaite, all courtesy Art Not Oil)

Over 200 arts professionals and scientists have signed an open letter in The Times calling for an end to BP’s new, five-year sponsorship deals with four major cultural institutions in the UK. Organized by Art Not Oil, the activist coalition that’s long been protesting to end oil industry funding of the arts, the letter’s signatories include artist Conrad Atkinson, Nigerian architect and poet Nnimmo Bassey, author Naomi Klein, and 350.org’s Bill McKibben. It arrives less than a week after the oil giant announced it would invest £7.5 million (~$10 million) over five years in renewed partnerships with the British Museum, London’s National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the Royal Opera House.

“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 statement reads. “If the world is to avoid rapid and devastating climate change in the coming decades, most of the oil on BP’s books cannot be burned.”

The letter goes on to call the announcement “outdated and unacceptable,” citing Art Not Oil’s recently published 40-page report that details correspondence between BP and a number of museums and suggests how the oil company takes advantage of its partnership deals. Art Not Oil drafted the letter the day BP made the partnerships announcement and immediately sent it out to a global network of contacts.

“When the sponsorship renewal was announced last week, it was a surprise that they could have made such an out-of-touch decision,” Chris Garrard of Art Not Oil told Hyperallergic. “The new deals are an attempt by BP to save face — it has already pulled out of Tate [after 25 years] and Edinburgh International Festival [after 34 years], weakly trying to blame the low oil prices.”

Art Not Oil already has plans to protest the new deals, in an attempt to get museums to terminate their BP sponsorship once and for all. The group’s first target, the British Museum, is no stranger to anti-BP protests; it witnessed two in May against its ongoing, BP-sponsored Sunken cities exhibition: a double intervention by BP or not BP? and another by Greenpeace activists, who scaled the building’s columns and unfurled large banners.

“There is over a year before these deals come into effect — time in which these institutions can revisit their own values and ethics policies, and make the right decision,” Garrard said.

“We will not be backing down but escalating our creative actions — we must protect our climate for future generations, and that requires a cultural shift away from fossil fuels.”

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