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December 19 2011

Galleries renew £10m BP deal despite environmental protests

The British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Opera House and Tate have renewed BP sponsorship deals

Four of the UK's biggest cultural organisations – the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House and Tate – have announced they are to renew sponsorship deals with BP worth £10m despite opposition from environmental campaigners.

The institutions have faced repeated protests in recent years for taking money from the oil giant. The leaders of all four gathered together in a show of solidarity and said the sponsorship would continue until 2017.

Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said there were protests every year at its BP-sponsored portrait prize. He said: "We absolutely respect the right of those who wish to protest and we would always think about any sponsorship very carefully." But he said BP's support over the years had been "extraordinary" and there had been "unanimous clarity" among the gallery's board of trustees in agreeing to renew the deal.

The Tate director, Nicholas Serota, said his organisation had thought very hard about the sponsorship and had looked at it again in 2010 and this year. "The board has thought very carefully about this and decided it was the right thing to do to continue with BP, who have been great supporters of the arts," he said.

Protests against BP's involvement intensified after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but Serota said: "The fact that they have one major incident in 2010 does not mean we should not take support from them."

BP's sponsorship of the arts has been longstanding and substantial and it said the future £10m over five years would be roughly equally divided between the four organisations.

Tate Britain has also been the target of protests including one outside its summer party last year, when protesters poured oil and feathers on the pavement. BP's support for its British art displays, which will undergo a major rehang in 2013, will continue.

At the Royal Opera House, BP will continue to support the Big Screen live relays of opera and ballet from Covent Garden to sites around the country. And at the British Museum BP has sponsored exhibitions such as Italian Renaissance Drawings and the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and will continue to give support over the next five years including sponsorship of a Vikings show in 2014.

The culture minister, Ed Vaizey, said: "BP's renewed commitment to four of Britain's great cultural institutions is extremely welcome. This is a significant investment, with £10m going directly towards staging world-class exhibitions and performances. For more than 20 years BP has led the way in business support for the arts and I am delighted that this will continue over the next five years."

Kevin Smith, of the art campaign group Platform, said: "By aligning themselves with BP, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House and Tate Britain are legitimising the devastation of indigenous communities in Canada through tar sands extraction, the expansion of dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic, and the reckless business practices that lead to the deaths of 11 oil workers on the Deepwater Horizon. BP's involvement with these institutions represents a serious stain on the UK's cultural patrimony."

BP's managing director, Iain Conn, said the company felt it important "that we make a meaningful contribution to society here in the UK. Our work with these partner institutions is a major part of this – enabling people around the country and the world to connect through the experience of outstanding exhibitions and performances, promoting ideas and encouraging creativity."


guardian.co.uk © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


December 13 2011

Tate may not renew BP sponsorship after protests

Director of group that covers four galleries around UK says decision is due on partnership deal with BP, expiring next year

The Tate galleries are reviewing their 20-year partnership with BP, after demonstrations by green campaigners.

Tate's director, Sir Nicholas Serota, has said it will decide whether to renew the contract with BP "quite soon". This month he was presented with a petition from 8,000 Tate members and visitors organised by the pressure groups Platform, Liberate Tate and Art Not Oil. Serota said: "You'll not be surprised to learn that the whole question of the support from BP has exercised trustees quite seriously over the past two years. Both the trustees as a board, but also the trustees through their ethics committee, which was instituted about four years ago, have looked very carefully at the question." The trustees had decided that "the good that has been done through the money that has come from BP for the gallery, and for the gallery's public, has been very profound". The current three-year sponsorship runs out in 2012. Art Not Oil has also called for protest against BP's sponsorship of next year's Cultural Olympiad and Festival of London. It asks artists to submit work to a "BP-free Cultural Olympiad gallery" on its website. "The Olympics has presented the company with the perfect platform for some aggressive rebranding," it said.

The company's sponsorship of British arts institutions, including the National Gallery and the Royal Opera House, is worth more than £1m a year. It first attracted protests after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Two months later, five gallons of molasses were poured down Tate Britain's stairs at its summer party. Demonstrators also let off helium balloons in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall with dead fish attached which were shot down with air rifles by gallery staff.

Sponsorship is increasingly contentious as arts organisations make up the shortfall in government funding. Last week, two poets withdrew from the TS Eliot prize sponsored by investment management firm Aurum Funds; the Poetry Book Society struck the deal with Aurum after its arts council funding was withdrawn. On Thursday, the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said artists should support firms that donate; it is "is encouraging good behaviour by corporations", he told the New Culture Forum, a rightwing arts thinktank. Encouraging philanthropy, Hunt added, was his priority for the arts.

Arts Index, launched by the National Campaign for the Arts last week, calculates business contributions are down 17% from 2007-10, but Hunt said he hoped this coming year would show an increase of 6%.

BP said it remained "committed" to the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival. But a spokesman said it would not comment on the Tate sponsorship before talks on its renewal. The Cultural Olympiad said it valued BP's support.


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June 24 2010

Summer of protest over BP arts sponsorship

Prestigious institutions defend links with oil firm as artists and green activists plan action

The summer season of events at Britain's most prestigious galleries and museums will be picketed by artists and green groups intent on portraying BP's arts sponsorship as a toxic brand.

Protests are planned next Monday by an eco-alliance styling itself "Good Crude Britannia" at Tate Britain's celebration of its 20-year association with the international oil conglomerate.

Climate change activists, artists and musicians opposed to the fossil fuel industry are determined to highlight BP's link to the arts in the context of the company's international embarrassment over the continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

But the main recipients of BP's corporate largesse – the Royal Opera House, Tate Galleries, British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery – today issued a joint statement defending the connection and signalling their determination to preserve the commercial relationship.

The calls for cultural institutions to distance themselves from the oil industry comes at a time when government spending on the arts is about to be slashed amid efforts to cut public debt.

Many of Europe's leading artists, donors and cultural supporters are expected to be greeted at the glittering annual Tate summer party by Lord Brown of Madingley, chair of the Tate and former head of BP.

The planned demonstration next Monday follows protests this week by a group of artists calling themselves the Greenwash Guerrillas, who distributed leaflets outside the National Portrait Gallery at a BP-sponsored arts event. Greenpeace campaigners followed up with an "alternative exhibition" at a private viewing at the gallery.

The oil company has refused to divulge how much money it donates to the arts in Britain but it is thought, along with Shell, to be one of the most generous donors. In 2005 the figure was estimated to be more than £1m a year. BP also sponsors the Almeida theatre, the National Maritime museum, and the Science and Natural History museums.

"Organisations like the National Portrait Gallery help shape public attitudes towards the big issues of the day and if the gallery is serious about climate change then the sponsorship deal with BP has got to end," said Robin Oakley, Greenpeace's campaigns director.

In a separate development, musicians including Lady Gaga, Korn, Disturbed, Godsmack, Creed, and the Backstreet Boys said they planned to boycott BP on their national tours this year.

"It is absurd that the Tate should be sponsored by a company that is as irresponsible and polluting as BP," said Matthew Herbert, an electronic artist and composer who will headline the jazz stage at Glastonbury this weekend.

The oil industry has been a target for artists and activists for many years. Shell was widely boycotted in the 1990s for its involvement in the Nigerian government's decision to hang the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Last month a group called Liberate Tate entered the gallery's main turbine hall and released dozens of black balloons attached to dead fish in protest against the Gulf oil spill. Gallery staff had to shoot the balloons down with air rifles.

The press opening of the BP Portrait Awards was gatecrashed this week by a film crew from the Don't Panic collective who distributed wine glasses filled with thick black liquid symbolising the spill.

"In the past Imperial Tobacco used to sponsor the portrait awards," said Heydon Prowse, one of Don't Panic's film-makers, "then it was considered no longer acceptable. Perhaps the same should be considered now for BP given its attitude to regulation and tar sands."

The Tate gallery said it had an ethics committee which regularly reviewed its sponsorship deals. "BP is one of the most important sponsors of the arts in the UK supporting Tate as well as several other leading cultural institutions. Tate works with a wide range of corporate organisations and generates the majority of its funding from earned income and private sources. The Board and Ethics committee regularly review compliance with the policy," it said.

The National Portrait Gallery said: "The sponsorship of the annual Portrait Award by BP is now in its 21st year and their support directly encourages the work of artists and helps gain wider recognition for them."

A joint statement – from the Tate, Opera House, British Museum and Portrait Gallery – added: "The income generated through corporate partnerships is vital to the mixed economy of successful arts organisations and enables each of us to deliver a rich and vibrant cultural programme.

"We are grateful to BP for their long-term commitment, sharing the vision that our artistic programmes should be made available to the widest possible audience."

Suggestions that the massive bills being shouldered by BP for the clean up operation in the Gulf might force it to scale back on its support for the arts were dismissed by the company. Many of the deals are subject to long-term contractual agreements. Abandoning them would generate adverse publicity at a sensitive time.

"Everyone has a right to protest," a BP spokesman said, "but we feel sad they would choose to do so since we are doing the best we can to deal with a difficult situation.

"In the States, we have offered grants for research on the impact of the oil and detergents and there are people looking to get that sponsorship. I'm not aware of any arts institutions in the USA or the UK withdrawing [from sponsorship deals]."

Maurice Davies, of the Museums Association, which represents UK galleries and museums, doubted that any institution would immediately disown BP given the firm's record of sustained commitment to the arts. "Museums make judgements about who is a suitable sponsor," he said. "No one would take [money] from tobacco firms or arms companies. BP has a long and distinguished record of sponsorship. No one will rush to judgment on a company that has been a loyal supporter for such a long time. I don't hear a national clamour for BP petrol stations to be shut down."


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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