Last week, theatrical action group BP or not BP? pulled off an audacious stunt in the BP-sponsored British Museum. Three performers turned up to the press launch of the new BP-branded Scythians exhibition with a set of professional-looking spoof banners, and pretended to be BP “Brand Enforcement Ambassadors”.
They spent two-and-a-half hours cheerfully chatting to journalists, and being startling honest about the real reasons behind BP’s sponsorship of the exhibition: to distract from the company’s polluting practices and to support its efforts to drill in the Russian Arctic.
But this is just one example from a month that’s been packed with action against oil sponsorship, calling on arts institutions to stop providing cheap publicity and false credibility to the fossil fuel industry.
In just the last few weeks, we’ve seen all this…
Pressure building on BP at the Portrait Awards
BP or not BP? set up a “rebel exhibit” inside the National Portrait Gallery – a portrait of the West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda – to highlight BP’s role in supporting Indonesia’s brutal occupation of West Papua.
“I hope this action will help keep the issue of BP’s role in climate change from being overshadowed by their contribution to the arts… I was very uncomfortable with the idea that the Portrait Award was being used to improve BPs image.
Big oil companies like BP have the power to prevent the fossil fuels in the ground from entering the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, and we need to keep pressure on them to accept this responsibility.”
– Henry Christian-Slane, winner of BP Young Artist award
Alongside rebel exhibits, BP is under pressure from it’s own prizewinners. The winner of the National Portrait Gallery’s BP Young Artist Award publicly donated a portion of the prize money to Greenpeace, in protest at the award’s BP branding. In response, the art critic Jonathan Jones – a previous defender of oil sponsorship – publicly came out against BP arts funding in the Guardian.
Action in Amsterdam…
A large group of performers from Fossil Free Culture Netherlands created an “oil-soaked, dried-up, burnt-down forest” inside the Shell-sponsored Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, to coincide with an exhibition of nature-themed paintings.
… And in Paris!
Activists in Paris from Libérons le Louvre released an “oil spill” into the fountain beneath the Musée du Louvre’s iconic glass pyramid – their third creative action against Total’s sponsorship of the gallery.
And some great research
- Campaign and research group Culture Unstained had a letter published in the Guardian, explaining how the National Portrait Gallery is ignoring its own Ethical Sponsorship Policy by partnering with BP.
- Under pressure following the launch of Fossil Free £5 Tickets, a crowdfunded ethical alternative to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s BP-branded £5 ticket scheme for 16-25-year olds, the iconic theatre company made its sponsorship policy public for the first time.
The momentum is building. In the UK, much of this campaigning comes from members of the Art Not Oil Coalition (including BP or not BP?, Culture Unstained and many others). We’re happy to announce that 350 has now officially joined this coalition of groups taking creative action to kick fossil fuel companies out of arts and culture. Our role will be to share these stories and help you to get involved in cultural divestment campaigns near you!
To stay up-to-date with oil sponsorship campaigns in the UK, sign up for Art Not Oil’s email newsletter here (and you can read their most recent one, with more detail on a number of the above stories, here).