The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London and British oil and gas giant BP announced today that they will not renew their partnership beyond December 2022, when their current contract expires. This announcement marks the end of three decades of BP’s sponsorship of the NPG, the UK’s flagship portrait museum. BP was also the title sponsor of the NPG’s Portrait Award, a competitive and prestigious annual competition that will continue without BP’s sponsorship.
a joint Press release by BP and the NPG made no reference to the broader climate crisis or the years of effort by activists who tirelessly protested fossil fuel sponsorship of the cultural sector. Instead, the NPG expressed their gratitude to the company for providing “a platform for artists around the world, as well as a source of inspiration and enjoyment for audiences across the UK”. .
But Culture Unstained, one such group spearheading anti-oil advocacy, saw the latest development as an undeniable result of BP’s poor reputation.
“This is clearly a vote of no confidence in BP’s activities,” Jess Worth, co-director of Culture Unstained, said in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “The company has spent 30 years painting itself an image as a responsible philanthropist, but it’s quickly running out of places to clean up its toxic image.”
The news comes as institutions across the UK face growing pressure to cut ties with fossil fuel companies. Last Sunday, February 20, members of the theatrical group of protest BP or not BP? staged one of their signature parody actions at the British Museum’s new BP-funded exhibition The world of Stonehenge. Members of the group dressed up as BP representatives and satirically disclosed the company’s plans to drill at the ancient site. A label explained that while the Stonehenge plans were a farce, BP carries out similar destructive practices elsewhere in the world, including the shame of Aboriginal rock art in Western Australia.
“Murujuga rock art is sacred like Stonehenge – and even older. This place has the world’s oldest creation story. BP has connections to the Karratha gasworks and a footprint here. They shouldn’t : the footprint belongs to the Ngurrara people,” Josie Alec, a wife of Kuruma Marthudunera, said in a statement to BP or Not BP?.
“We have a big industry sitting on our country every day, polluting our air, killing our animals, killing our plants and killing our Songlines,” Alec added.
Notably, BP continues to benefit from a sponsorship agreement at the British Museum. Unsupported email culture discovered via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed that the institution was pursuing a new deal with BP after 2023. found that the British Museum regularly convene a Chairman’s Advisory Group of representatives of companies, including BP, giving them privileged access to the management of the museum. Last week, 300 archaeologists signed a open letter urging the British Museum to end its relationship with BP.
In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, a museum spokesperson said: “The British Museum receives funding from bp, a long-standing corporate partner, to support the museum’s mission, providing a public benefit to a global audience. Without external support, many programs and other major projects would not take place. The British Museum is grateful to all who support its work in these times of reduced funding. »
In recent years, several episodes have prompted the NPG to free itself from its association with BP. In 2019, British artist Gary Hume, who served as a jury member for the BP Portrait Award that year, condemned the multinational’s sponsorship of the same competition, calling on the museum to stop “hosting a prize of oil brand art”. An open letter written by Hume has been co-signed by 80 artists, including figures such as Anish Kapoor and Sarah Lucas. Bands like BP or Not BP? also staged a number of creative interventions inside and outside the NPG’s physical space, including a protest outside the 2019 BP Portrait Awards ceremony that required guests to climb a wall to enter the event.
The NPG follows a series of cultural institutions which in recent years have distanced themselves from the London-based oil and gas conglomerate, which between 1988 and 2015 was responsible for 1.53% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, the Tate and BP ended their sponsorship relationship, severing a 26-year relationship; in 2019, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) followed suit. The Tate was quick to reverse the role that performance artists and activist groups like Liberate Tate and Platform London played in their decision, although public pressure undoubtedly spurred the museum’s disassociation from BP. .
The RSC severed ties with BP in 2019, following the resignation of playwright and director Mark Rylance from the company in protest at his link to BP and after the RSC carried out a youth survey which revealed shown that “BP sponsorship puts a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the SRC. The National Galleries of Scotland also announced in 2019 that they were ending their relationship with BP, citing the “climate emergency”.
“We are delighted that the National Portrait Gallery has finally seen the big picture and abandoned BP. It is out of the question that our national cultural institutions legitimize oil companies in the midst of a climate crisis,” said Bayryam Bayryamali, BP or not BP? activist, said in the group’s statement. “This is the latest major victory for the movement against fossil fuel sponsorship, and leaves the British Museum and the Science Museum isolated and disconnected.”