Challenging BP Arts Sponsorship
June 21, 2014 – London: Members of the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement (DANCE) took part in protests at the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum in a week of multiple actions from various groups challenging BP ties to British arts and cultural institutions.
At the National Portrait Gallery, which is celebrating 25 years of BP sponsorship, 25 art-activists from the Art Not Oil coalition had oil poured over them. The performance, ’25 Portraits in Oil’, created 25 portraits of oil-smeared faces from across the gallery, one for each year that BP has sponsored the award.
Meanwhile, at the British Museum – which is facing its third protest from different groups in one week – members from Bristol, Brighton, London and Gaia DANCE hosted a meditation response targeted at the BP sponsored Viking exhibition. The event, which was inspired by a similar event staged by the Sustainable Quakers earlier in the week, centred around a silent circle of meditation whereby visitors at the museum where invited to reflect on whether culture should be used to cleanse the image of BP and so endorse climate destruction.
This ‘quieter’ approach was in stark contrast to another protest held at the British Museum less than a week before on Sunday 15 June, whereby more than 200 Vikings showed up to perform a piece of interactive theatre in a mass ‘flash-hoarde’ staged by BP or not BP?. The performance involved the construction of a 15 metre longboat and a BP funeral. One viking was arrested for carrying a cardboard shield.
Jill Bird, who travelled through from Bristol to take part in the protests, said ‘The variety of different groups responding to this issue shows that it’s clearly touched something in the public conscience which needs be addressed. In much the same way that tobacco sponsorship would no longer be tolerated as acceptable, we want our arts and cultural institutions free of the association with ‘dirty oil’. BP provides less than 1% of the annual income of the British Museum, and yet they receive enormous branding and public relations benefits in return, allowing them to hide their real activities around the world’.
Earlier this year, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu called for action by ‘people of conscience’ against arts and sports programming sponsored by fossil-fuel companies, saying: “Twenty-five years ago people could be excused for not knowing or doing much about climate change. Today we have no excuse. Companies responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are not simply going to give up. They need persuasion from the likes of us and our cultural institutions to cut their ties to the fossil-fuel industry.”
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Why protest about BP?
BP recently launched several highly polluting tar sands extraction projects in Canada, infringing on the rights of local Indigenous people. US Gulf Coast communities have been left devastated by BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, with the death of thousands of forms of marine life including close to 1000 bottle-nose dolphins. Several years on Gulf residents and clean-up workers continue to suffer serious health problems. The company is now speculating high risk drilling options in the Arctic, whilst at the same time lobbying against environmental laws and blocking clean energy alternatives all over the world.