As London prepared to host the People’s Climate March on the morning of 21st September, a group of ‘BP or not BP?’ activists recreated the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster at the British Museum. Their surprise theatre performance, entitled “Gross Negligence”, was to challenge BP’s sponsorship of the Museum and highlight the comments of a US judge who recently decided that BP bore 67% of responsibility for the disaster.
BP or not BP are part of the Art Not Oil Coalition, along with groups like Platform London, Shell Out Sounds and Liberate Tate. In the current issue of Transition Free Press, Tara Clarke outlines their call for cultural organisations to reject funding from fossil fuel companies:
To mark the publication of Platform London’s recent report, Picture This – A Portrait of 25 Years of BP Sponsorship, 25 performers smeared oil on their faces and stood as exhibits around the National Portrait Gallery to represent 25 environmental catastrophes associated with the company since the BP Portrait Award began in 1989.
“How bad does a company have to be before an arts organisation refuses to be associated with it or take its money?” Platform London’s June publication asked as it detailed BP’s relationship with the National Portrait Award. “The association with BP is deeply problematic and unethical, and in effect endorses climate change,” says Jane Trowell from the arts activist group.
The discontent around the Portrait Award is part of a wider movement to delegitimise the fossil fuel industry. In June, 200 ‘Vikings’ from the performance group BP or not BP? invaded London’s British Museum to protest at BP’s sponsorship of an exhibition about the Scandinavian warriors. BP or not BP? are also targeting the oil giant’s relationship with the Tate galleries and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Radical choir Shell Out Sounds, who’ve conducted numerous choral ‘flashmobs’ during concert intervals at the Southbank Centre, have been celebrating the venue’s announcement that its sponsorship relationship with Shell is to end.
“It’s clear that our actions, as part of a long-running campaign, had created the ethical shift we had long been hoping for, where Shell no longer gains respectability by nestling its name next to concerts with some of the world’s best musicians,” says Chris Garrard from the group. “Music and art are incredibly powerful tools for challenging greenwash and the fossil fuel industry.”
These creative activist groups, along with others such as Liberate Tate and the UK Tar Sands Network, are part of the Art Not Oil Coalition who have been mobilising against oil company sponsorship of cultural institutions since 2004. One of the most recent members, Science Unstained, has been highlighting the fact that Shell have sponsored the Science Museum’s permanent climate change exhibition since 2010.
The Art Not Oil Coalition argues that public museums are acting as a public relations vehicle for oil companies. According to research by Platform London, fossil fuel sponsorship constitutes a minimal proportion of cultural institutions’ total budgets, compared to the social value companies such as BP and Shell extract from having their logo associated with Britain’s top artists and performers. In the case of the National Portrait Gallery, BP’s sponsorship money represents 2.9% of the Gallery’s total income – for the British Museum it is under 1%.
The National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Tate Britain and the Royal Opera House have a five year sponsorship deal with BP, which is due for renewal in 2016. The stage seems set for more artistic activism.
Tara Clarke is a climate change activist and member of Science Unstained. She is Programme Delivery Officer at Science Oxford and is studying for an MA in Science Communication at Imperial College.
Read the whole edition online here.
Subscribe to Transition Free Press and support grassroots media here.