National Galleries Scotland ends BP relationship

| 13th November 2019
BP or not BP
BP or not BP
Announcement puts pressure on other oil-funded arts institutions, especially National Portrait Gallery.

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National Galleries Scotland has announced that it is ending its partnership with the oil company BP in response to the climate emergency.

In a statement posted on its website the gallery said: “The BP Portrait Award 2019 exhibition opens on 7 December at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. At the National Galleries of Scotland we recognise that we have a responsibility to do all we can to address the climate emergency. For many people, the association of this competition with BP is seen as being at odds with that aim.

"Therefore, after due consideration, the trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland have decided that this will be the last time that the galleries will host this exhibition in its present form.”

Destructive activities 

Campaigners in Edinburgh have targeted the award on its previous annual visits to the Scottish Portrait Gallery. The creative action group BP or not BP? Scotland have performed several times inside the gallery, including with oily portraits and climate-themed Christmas carolling.

The BP Portrait Award has been targeted by campaigners for many years, who believe that the prestigious portrait prize is being used by the oil giant to ‘artwash’ its image and distract from its real destructive activities.

One of the judges of this year’s prize, Gary Hume, spoke out against the BP branding when this year’s award was announced, and was joined in his criticism by 77 other artists including five Turner Prize winners.

At the VIP launch of the BP Portrait Award at the London National Portrait Gallery in June, activist theatre group BP or not BP? blocked the entrances to the gallery with portraits of frontline environmental defenders, forcing guests to climb over a wall to get into the event.

On the final day of the London exhibition, activists from Extinction Rebellion poured fake oil over semi-naked performers inside the gallery in protest at the BP sponsorship.

Massive win

Alys Mumford, from BP or not BP? Scotland said: "It is extremely significant that yet another major Scottish cultural institution has dropped fossil fuel sponsorship, following the Edinburgh International Festival in 2015 and the Edinburgh Science Festival earlier this year.

"This is a massive win for campaigners who have taken action against the BP Portrait Award being hosted in Scotland for several years.

"It sends a clear message that it is no longer socially acceptable to have links with the fossil fuel industry because of their continued role in driving the climate crisis and human rights abuses across the world.

"We hope that the few remaining institutions that allow themselves to be used as greenwash for the industry join the National Galleries on the right side of history’

According to Roxana Halls, an artist who has exhibited in the BP Portrait Award 5 times and who was one of the artists who joined Gary Hume in calling for an end to the BP branding: "This is a brave and difficult decision on the part of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, one which cannot have been easy to take and which I applaud."

Seismic

According to Chris Garrard of Culture Unstained, a research and campaign group who have been working with artists to challenge BP sponsorship at the Portrait Galleries.

"This is nothing short of seismic" Chris said. "Following in the footsteps of the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, the trustees have recognised that, in a time of climate emergency, an ethical red line must be drawn and BP is on the wrong side of it.

"Now the National Portrait Gallery must follow this lead, cut its ties with BP and reinvent the Portrait Award as a positive celebration of portraiture, not a promotional tool for a climate criminal.’

This news comes just a month after the Royal Shakespeare Company publicly announced the end of its long-running sponsorship deal with BP. According to the RSC's Artistic Director Gregory Doran and Executive Director Catherine Mallyon,

"Amidst the climate emergency, which we recognise, young people are now saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the RSC. We cannot ignore that message."

Two days after the RSC statement, the National Theatre in London announced that its corporate partnership with Shell would not be renewed when it comes to an end in June 2020.

Trojan Horse

The ending of these three sponsorship deals in the space of five weeks increases the pressure on the shrinking number of UK arts institutions (including the London National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Royal Opera House, Science Museum and Southbank Centre) that still have promotional deals with fossil fuel companies.

Attention is turning in particular to the British Museum, where a BP-sponsored Troy exhibition is due to open on 21 November. 

Activist theatre group BP or not BP? have announced plans for a "mass creative takeover" of the British Museum on February 8th 2020.

In a cheeky twist, the group has successfully crowdfunded to build a Trojan Horse to bring to the event, which they believe will be the largest protest the museum has ever seen.

This Author 

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from BP or not BP.

Image: BP or not BP.

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