activism design energy

Big oil and big art

Today there’s a big reception at Tate Britain to celebrate 20 years of BP sponsorship. Now is not a great time to be celebrating BP, as you may have noticed, and a group of artists will be protesting outside the London art gallery. It’s not the first time they’ve been targetted. Protestors crashed the party at the ten year anniversary of the Tate modern, releasing black balloons with dead birds and fish attached into the former power station’s vast turbine hall. Staff had to halt proceedings and eventually resorted to shooting the balloons down with air rifles.

There’s a big campaign to ‘liberate the Tate‘ from its ties with big oil. The five year sponsorship deal with BP expires in 2011, and there is mounting pressure on the trustees not to renew it. The Tate is not the only cultural institution taking money from the oil companies however. Theatres, museums and galleries across London profit from oil company sponsorship, as the map above shows. In return, the oil companies benefit from being associated with high-minded cultural pursuits rather than their dirty business. And it buys them profile. Opening nights and special viewings are a perfect opportunity for executives to mingle with government figures and decision makers.

“BP is trying to repair its tarnished reputation and buy our approval by associating itself with culturally important institutions like Tate” says Jane Trowell of campaign group Platform. “The financial support provided by BP creates a perception of it being a cuddly corporate entity, and aims to distract us from the devastating environmental and social impacts of its global operations. Public outrage over the Deepwater Horizon spill is creating a moment for change. We hope that, as happened with the tobacco industry, it will soon come to be seen as socially unacceptable for cultural institutions to accept funding from Big Oil”.

If you’d like to join in the campaign and help end big oil’s association with British art, Platform’s license to spill briefing includes email addresses for the Tate’s head curator and directors.

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