The Guardian reported today that after nearly three decades, the British Museum’s contentious sponsorship deal with British Petroleum (BP) is ending. The news would signify a near-complete withdrawal of the oil giant from the UK arts world, as partnerships with other publicly funded institutions including the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery have also come to a close in recent years in the wake of pressure from anti-fossil fuel activists.
The Guardian claims it obtained documents via a Freedom of Information request in which the museum stated that “there are no other contracts or agreements in effect between the museum and BP.”
However, in a statement to Hyperallergic and other media, the museum refuted claims that it was ending its relationship with the company.
“In times of reduced public funding, corporate sponsors like bp allow us to fulfil our mission to deliver unique learning experiences to our visitors,” a British Museum spokesperson said.“We have not ended our partnership with bp. bp is a valued long term supporter of the Museum and our current partnership runs until this year.”
Advocates who have long demanded that the British Museum part ways with BP hailed the news as reported by the Guardian as a “massive victory.”
“BP’s sponsorship of the arts has never been about philanthropy: It was a cynical strategy to artwash its toxic reputation and advance its business while reaping record-breaking profits from advancing climate breakdown,” Sarah Waldron, co-director of campaign group Culture Unstained, said in a statement shared with Hyperallergic.
Climate activists have staged several protests and demonstrations at the British Museum in a call to end its deal with the petroleum company in the last few years. Culture Unstained notes that despite BP’s claims to be “net-zero” by 2050, according to its 2023 first-quarter report, the company generated $5 billion in underlying replacement cost profits, a number that was higher than expected in comparison to analyst predictions.
The British Museum faced additional pressure in 2019 when prominent novelist Ahdaf Soueif resigned from its board of trustees, citing in part the museum’s inability to end its BP sponsorship, which she stated was an “issue of critical concern to the people who should be its core constituency.”
At the beginning of this year, the museum announced at its annual trustees’ dinner that the institution was pledging to neutralize its carbon footprint through its so-called “Rosetta Project.” Still, it did not address its relationship with BP. The partnership was set to renew in February, but it was unclear whether the museum would move forward with the deal.
Editor’s note 6/2/23 5pm EST: This article has been updated to include a statement from the British Museum refuting the Guardian’s initial report.