British Museum will not shelve BP

A creative performance by BP or not BP? challenging BP’s sponsorship of Iraqi objects in the British Museum.

The British Museum has just opened its latest BP-sponsored exhibition - The World of Stonehenge - despite widespread anger that oil is still polluting culture.

The museum’s trustees have a legal duty to protect the museum’s reputation and should therefore end the partnership with BP.

The British Museum is pushing ahead with renewing the museum’s controversial sponsorship deal with the oil and gas giant BP despite huge opposition to the partnership, according to emails released under Freedom of Information (FOI) rules and made public by campagners at Culture Unstained.

Hartwig Fischer, the museum director, met with BP last year to discuss continuing the sponsorship relationship while the museum was publicly stating that no decision was ‘likely to be relevant for some time’.

Culture Unstained has been investigating the museum’s secretive ‘Chairman’s Advisory Group’ which includes representatives of corporations, including BP, that are given a direct line to the museum’s leaders behind closed doors, as reported by Channel 4 News last week. 

Partnership

The British Museum has just opened its latest BP-sponsored exhibition, The World of Stonehenge. More than 300 archeologists have written to the museum’s trustees calling on the much loved institution not to renew the sponsorship deal.

Chris Garrard, co-director of Culture Unstained, said: “Renewing BP’s sponsorship would be a reckless move. It would give further legitimacy to an oil and gas company that has made a massive contribution to climate breakdown and is raking in huge profits from an energy price crisis that’s causing financial hardship for millions. 

“The museum’s trustees have a legal duty to protect the museum’s reputation and should therefore end the partnership with BP, following in the footsteps of other major cultural institutions."

The museum’s trustees have a legal duty to protect the museum’s reputation and should therefore end the partnership with BP.

The new emails and documents reveal that Fischer spoke to BP in June 2021 and invited staff from the company to the museum to discuss the future of the partnership in the subsequent months.

The museum claimed just two days later that “no decision as to a future potential renewal is currently under consideration, nor is it likely to be relevant for some time”.

Brainstorm

The agendas show that Fischer and BP discussed “the different options for bp’s support post-Spring 2023” after undertaking a tour of the museum highlighting the history of the partnership. Plans were later made for a ‘brainstorm’ on this subject with a team from BP. 

One email to BP read: “It was wonderful to see you at the BM yesterday and to have the opportunity to discuss the future - particularly as our two organisations move towards a greater focus on sustainability. I look forward to continuing the discussion.”

The British Museum has also confirmed that it “does not hold any form of due diligence report or record on BP” even while it is clearly seeking sponsorship from the oil giant - and is therefore apparently flouting fundraising guidance from regulators.

There is an almost complete absence of transparency around the museum’s ‘Chairman’s Advisory Group’, whose membership is dominated by controversial corporations including its oil sponsor BP, as well as fossil banks Citi and Bank of America, mining giant Glencore and an unnamed multinational arms company.

In 2020, members of the Chairman’s Advisory Group were invited to ‘brainstorm new ideas’ for “How the British Museum should engage with the new government?” but all details have been heavily redacted by the museum and it refuses to disclose the group’s current membership.

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from Culture Unstained. You can view Culture Unstained’s full investigations into the BP sponsorship renewal here and the Chairman’s Advisory Group here.

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