Shell, the global oil and gas multinational, has announced plans to end its relationship with the London-based art complex Southbank Centre and the British Film Institute (BFI). The move comes in the wake of mounting pressure for cultural institutions to divest from oil sponsorship in the midst of the climate crisis.
Shell previously financed annual corporate memberships at the Southbank Centre and BFI, together worth around £20,000 (~$25,874), according to the Guardian. As of this year, it will no longer renew its contracts with the institutions.
“From its HQ on the South Bank, Shell has pursued a business plan that has trampled indigenous people’s rights and pushed the world deeper into climate crisis,” Chris Garrard of the nonprofit organization Culture Unstained told the Guardian. “Meanwhile, it has sponsored its cultural neighbors as part of a cynical attempt to deflect attention from the damage it was causing. But the show is over for Shell.”
The organized campaigns, protests, and interventions staged by Culture Unstained and other anti-oil groups, such as the theatrical activists BP or not BP?, have been yielding steady results over the past few years. Two Dutch institutions, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Mauritshuis in the Hague, put an end to their years-long relationship with Shell in 2018. That same year, Culture Unstained uncovered documents showing Shell’s decision to withdraw from the National Gallery in London.
While the most recent divestment was initiated by Shell, this is not the first time Southbank Centre has eliminated a Shell-backed initiative. In 2014, anti-oil campaigners celebrated Southbank Centre’s decision to end its Shell Classic International, a concert series sponsored by the fossil fuel titan. At the time, the music activism group Shell Out Sounds released a statement that read, “While Shell is still a Corporate Supporter of the SBC, we would like to give the SBC the benefit of the doubt and think of this as the beginning of a new era of conscious culture.”
The art world has severed numerous ties with both corporations and individuals accused of contributing to the climate crisis in the past years. Last month, Hyperallergic reported that conservative mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, known for supporting several climate change denial organizations, would no longer serve on the board of the American Museum of Natural History. In 2019, the National Galleries of Scotland ceased its BP Portrait Award, financed by oil company British Petroleum (BP); the Tate, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the National Theatre have also ended their sponsorship deals with BP.