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Activists celebrate news that no exhibitions or activities are being sponsored by BP, although documents show certain terms of the deal remain in effect until the end of the year.

Interior of British Museum

tupungato via iStock

The British Museum has ended its controversial sponsorship deal with oil and gas company BP after 27 years.
According to a Freedom of Information request first seen by The Guardian and shared by campaign group Culture Unstained, the museum confirmed no exhibitions or other activities are being sponsored BP, nor are there “other contracts or agreements in effect between the museum and BP”.
The revelation is being widely celebrated by environmentalists and arts activists, as it brings to an end over a decade of campaigning for the museum to revoke the sponsorship which saw many environmental protests take place within the museum grounds.

Previous reports indicated the museum’s BP sponsorship came to an end in February, when the last exhibition sponsored by the oil giant, Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt, ended, but neither party confirmed the end of the sponsorship publicly.

Despite the end of the sponsorship, a statement released by the museum to several media outlets suggests the partnership between the two parties is ongoing.

“BP is a valued long term supporter of the museum and our current partnership runs until this year,” a spokesperson said.
Information provided by Culture Unsutained to Arts Professional confirms that while BP is no longer funding any of the museum’s activities, certain terms of the deal between the two parties remain in effect due to a verbal agreement between both parties to let BP exercise “supporter benefits” that were not taken during the pandemic until the end of the year. 

However, the disclosure also confirms there are no records relating to renewing the agreement or agreeing a new or different kind of agreement with BP.

While calling the end of the sponorship a “massive victory”, Culture Unstained Co-Director Sarah Waldron questioned the way the museum has handled the end of the partnership.
“It’s deeply disappointing that, rather than proudly kicking out this major polluter which is pouring billions into fossil fuel extraction, the museum appears to be stage-managing its exit,” Waldron said.
“If it is serious about responding to the climate crisis, the museum must now confirm that it will have no future relationships with fossil fuel producers, take down BP’s name from its lecture theatre and roundly reject the climate-wrecking business it represents.” 
Professor Rodney Harrison, Professor of Heritage Studies at the UCL Institute of Archaeology said the despite the lack of a clear statement from the museum, the move does “gesture positively towards Chair George Osborne’s stated aspirations to become a net zero museum, and the significant role for arts and cultural institutions in taking action for climate”.

Osborne made the commitment to a net zero future at an annual trustees dinner in November 2022, adding the museum will become “no longer a destination for climate protest but instead an example of climate solution” as part of a “complete reimagination” of the institution.

Last sponsorship standing

The end of the sponsorship means the British Museum is the latest in a string of leading cultural institutions that has severed ties with BP.
In recent years, The Tate, National Portrait Gallery, Scottish Ballet and Royal Opera House have all ended their sponsorships with the firm.
It leaves the Science Museum as the only cultural institution with a BP sponsorship, as it currently funds its educational academy.
The Science Museum also receives ongoing support from Shell, Norwegian oil and gas company Equinor and Adani Green Energy, a sub-company of Indian multinational conglomerate Adani, which is sponosring the museum’s new gallery space.

The ongoing sponorsorships led to the resignation of the Science Museum’s former director and two trustees, as well as a boycott from scientists.
Julie’s Bicycle Founder and CEO Alison Tickell is among those calling for attention to turn to the Science Museum.
“High time outlier Science Museum caught up. Literally no time to lose,” she tweeted.