Anna B. Sexton reads Mel Evans’ Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts, and says it’s time to change the way we think.
Artwash, like greenwash, is when oil companies use arts sponsorship to pull focus away from the dirty world of oil extraction, with its shocking track record of human rights abuse, environmental destruction and contribution to climate change. In Mel Evans’ new book of this name, she lays bare one of the greatest cultural and environmental power plays of post-modern times.
This is a book for anyone in the arts who is interested in being more environmentally aware in their practice and work choices.
Evans’ well-researched book shows how collusion with this artwash is exactly what corporate oil giants want
As trust diminishes across society – within our political parties, government departments and corporate players – the general public can and do vote with their feet. We can buy products and experiences that align and overlap with our values. The art consuming public can’t seem to get enough of our nation’s iconic major gallery spaces, and Tate Modern, the British Museum and National Portrait Gallery – their shows, cafes and bookshops - have never been more patronised. Yet these great halls of art are sponsored by the biggest polluters and instigators of crimes against First Nations peoples and the environment.
The subtle use of the BP logo entices people to trust the oil giants. Every time they set foot in a BP sponsored gallery or museum, they unwittingly endorse the ‘acting out’ of a simulated ‘authentic’ partnership aimed at the furthering of the art world. Without them, artwash would not be possible. Evans presents the real financial costs of the investment made in these relationships. The amounts of money involved are miniscule in comparison to the millions being generated through income-generated activities and trust and foundation funding. So why are these partnership kept in place?
Evans’ well-researched book shows how collusion with this artwash is exactly what corporate oil giants want, and that leaders of our national arts organisations and heads of government departments actively support and collude too. It is not a comfortable read and neither should it be. Unless we each change the ways we think and behave, we continue to collude in one of the most criminal cultural deceits of our times. So, whatever you do, don’t just read this book and carry on as usual.
Anna B. Sexton is Director of Open To Create.