The ethics of sponsorship

an Extinction Rebellion flag flies in front a museum
09 Feb 2022

Choosing a multinational oil and gas corporation as the major sponsor of a climate change exhibition sounds like something straight out of 'The Thick of It'. But, says Justin Williams, Shell's corporate sponsorship of the Science Museum is no fiction.

Ethical trouble at the top

02 Feb 2022

Day-to-day news is littered with questions over ethics. We care deeply about rights and wrongs. But Michelle Wright asks, do the arts care more than other sectors? 

Private arts funding 'increasingly reliant on social impact evidence'

People sitting on grass at a Coventry City of Culture event
16 Jun 2022

Arts and culture organisations report more competition for private sector funding, and requirement to show the work they do has a positive effect.

Activists occupy British Museum

25 Apr 2022

Hundreds of activists have staged another protest at the British Museum against the institution’s links to oil giant BP.

Activist theatre group BP or not BP, organisers of the "Make BP History" event said around 400 people took part in multiple protests across the British Museum on Saturday (23 April), culminating in a 10 metre BP logo being pulled apart in the Great Court. Protestors then went on to occupy four different rooms in the museum after closing time.

BP is one of the British Museum's longest standing corporate supporters, supporting the museum since 1996. The current five-year contract was signed in May 2016 and extended for a year due to Covid. It is understood the museum is in talks with the oil giants over extending the arrangement further. Several protests against the museum's corporate partnership with BP have been held in recent weeks.

Deborah Locke, a member of BP or not BP, said: "Renewing this sponsorship deal would send a terrible message, making an oil giant seem acceptable when we need to urgently shift away from this disastrous industry.”

The British Museum has previously defended its relationship with BP, stating that "without external support much programming and other major projects would not happen".

Fresh pressure on British Museum’s BP sponsorship

19 Apr 2022

The British Museum's board of trustees have received a formal call to reject a new sponsorship deal with BP.

Sent following revelations that Museum Director Hartwig Fischer plans to renew the partnership, Culture Unstained's submission argues trustees must exercise “informed and ethical judgement” of its continued association with the energy company.

The demand is co-signed by eight leading professionals including former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chair Robert Watson, and Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS Union, which represents many British Museum workers.

More than 300 people are planning to take part in a protest arranged by BP or not BP? on Saturday, the fourth held at the museum this month.

Culture Unstained Co-Director Chris Garrard says it is vital trustees "fulfil their legal duties".

"If the board does approve a new deal with BP, it would signal that they chose to sidestep their own sustainability policy and dismiss the reputational risks of partnering with a leading fossil fuel producer as the climate crisis worsens."

New Scientist Live festival drops BP

10 Mar 2022

A science festival has ended its association with energy company BP after fielding years of criticism.

New Scientist Live, due to take place in Manchester this weekend, has shifted its approach after dropping BP as a sponsor and speaker at an online event in September.

Several scientists withdrew from the event in protest at the time, though the festival has faced pressure over the controversial alliance since 2019.

Activist group Culture Unstained welcomed the change of policy, while Dr Emma Garnett, who pulled out of the event last year, applauded the festival's courage.

"I understand it is difficult for organisations to turn away funding. However, it is vital organisations refuse fossil fuel sponsorship because these companies are polluting our discussions as well as our planet.

"I think the evidence is incredibly clear: how far we succeed in limiting climate change depends on dismantling fossil fuel industry influence in our politics and culture."

Pressure on arts sector to cut Russian ties

02 Mar 2022

Cancellations abound in protest over the invasion in Ukraine as calls for a cultural boycott of "blood-drenched Russian money" grow louder.

Scottish Ballet ends BP sponsorship

23 Feb 2022

The Scottish Ballet has ended its partnership with BP.

Scotland’s national ballet confirmed it severed ties with the oil giant at the end of January as it works to become carbon neutral by 2030.

The announcement follows the National Portrait Gallery’s decision to end its 30-year BP sponsorship.

Member of activist theatre group BP or not BP? Scotland, Zoe Lafferty, said all eyes are now on the British Museum to follow suit.

“We desperately need cultural gatekeepers to start being leaders in times of crisis rather than allowing the arts to hide decades of violence towards people and ecosystems.”

BP and National Portrait Gallery cut ties

22 Feb 2022

A 30 year sponsorship deal between BP and the National Gallery will end in December, the parties say.

In a press release on Tuesday (February 22), they confirmed that BP's support of the Portrait Award will not be renewed. It said the decision was made "together", offering no insight into whether pressure to end oil company sponsorship of the arts convinced either partner that time was up.

"The BP of today is a very different company from when we first started our partnership with the National Portrait Gallery," the company's UK boss Louise Kingham said, noting a need to find "new ways to best use our talent, experience, and resources".

Lobby groups Culture Unstained and BP or not BP? claim its clear the partnership had become too controversial.

"This is clearly a vote of no confidence in BP’s business. The company spent 30 years painting a picture of itself as a responsible philanthropist but it is rapidly running out of places to clean up its toxic image," Culture Unstained Co-Director Jess Worth said.

Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, expressed gratitude for the long-running support.

"Its funding for the award has fostered creativity, encouraged portrait painting for over 30 years and given a platform to artists from around the world, as well as providing inspiration and enjoyment for audiences across the UK."

It's estimated the sponsorship enabled six million free visits and contributed to the career development of more than 1,500 portrait artists.

The last Portrait Award was in 2020. It was not staged this year or last because the gallery is closed for redevelopment.

British Museum considers BP sponsorship renewal

21 Feb 2022

The British Museum plans to renew its controversial sponsorship deal with BP, according to internal emails.

Documents obtained by Culture Unstained show museum director Hartwig Fischer met with the oil giant last year to discuss continuing the partnership beyond spring 2023.

BP or not BP, a separate activist group, staged a protest over the weekend in which they pretended to be British Museum staff presenting fake plans to drill for oil at Stonehenge, in reference to the institution's new BP-funded exhibition about the site.

Last year, the museum publicly claimed “no decision as to a future potential renewal is currently under consideration, nor is it likely to be relevant for some time”.

Culture Unstained said sponsorship renewal 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.”

Where are the red lines on ethical fundraising?

protestors campaign against Shell's sponsorship of the Science Museum
02 Feb 2022

In recent years, as climate change has intensified, so has controversy around fossil fuel funding. Chris Garrard says we must learn from our leading museums’ mistakes.

Scientists boycott Science Museum amid new sponsorship claims

22 Nov 2021

Leading scientists have boycotted the Science Museum until it announces a moratorium on fossil fuel funding.

An open letter signed by over 60 professionals, including former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chair Robert Watson, says they “can no longer be complicit" in the policies adopted by the museum.

“This means publicly committing not to renew any existing contracts when they expire, or to form any new ones until, at the very least, the company demonstrates a credible plan for phasing out fossil fuels in line with the Paris 1.5°C target,” it continues.

The letter follows criticism of the Science Museum’s sponsorship agreements with oil giants Shell and Adani, which led to the resignation of its former director and two trustees, and comes amid new claims the institution signed a similar 'gagging clause' with Adani as it it did Shell.

The contract prohibits the museum from making "any statement or issue any publicity or otherwise be involved in any conduct or matter that may reasonably be forsseen as discrediting or damaging the goodwill or reputation" of Adani Green Energy.

The Science Museum did not apply its own standards for ethical sponsorship to the Adani's parent group because the deal is with Adani Green Energy.

However, newly released documents suggest Adani Group negotiated the partnership.

"In the wake of COP26, there is no justification for providing positive PR to companies heavily involved in fossil fuel extraction," said Culture Unstained Co-Director Jess Worth.

"It’s time [the Science Museum] admitted their mistake and engaged with those who care so deeply about the museum’s future that they are willing to pass up paid work and prestigious opportunities to make their concerns heard."

Can corporate sponsorship be part of the environmental agenda?

10 Nov 2021

As arts organisations struggle with post-Covid recovery, Michelle Wright asks whether sponsorship can grow in this economic climate.

Science Museum slammed over 'reckless' sponsorship deal

21 Oct 2021

The museum has relied on a technicality to sidestep its own standards for corporate partnerships.

Channel 4 drops BP from Paralympics coverage

24 Aug 2021

Channel 4 have confirmed BP will no longer sponsor its coverage of the Paralympics, due to start later this week.

A Freedom of Information request by Culture Unstained confirmed the oil company will no longer share sponsorship with Toyota.

READ MORE: Science Museum used 'misleading' tool to justify big oil sponsorship

Although Channel 4 declined to confirm why the oil giant is no longer a sponsor, climate activists have cited growing public opposition to fossil fuel sponsorship.
 
Andrew Simms from the Rapid Transition Alliance said the decision should “send a wider message” around the ethics of sponsorship.

Science Museum used 'misleading' tool to justify big oil sponsorship

05 Aug 2021

The museum promoted itself as the first in the cultural sector to assess potential partners using a climate action benchmark that would have green lit deals with most oil and gas companies.

Prince Philip: a steadfast supporter of the arts

14 Apr 2021

Arts leaders and organisations have paid tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh as a committed patron of both the orthodox and the unconventional.

Communicating with donors at a time of crisis

26 Mar 2020

Fundraising might seem impossible right now but donors need to hear from you on good days and bad, writes Michelle Wright.

£288m concert hall will be ‘the Tate Modern for music’

11 Mar 2020

The proposed Centre for Music will operate without public subsidy after the Government decided it was too expensive. 

£20m fund to make the arts ‘investment ready’

04 Mar 2020

The initiative builds on the success of two pilot programmes to promote a new approach to finance in the arts and cultural sectors. 

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