Three years after a request under the Freedom of Information Act, Tate has responded to a Tribunal ruling that it must release some details of its sponsorship deal with BP.

Photo of people holding a large black square of fabric in the Turbine Hall
'Hidden Figures’ performance by art collective Liberate Tate

©Martin LeSanto-Smith 2014

Tate galleries have disclosed the financial sums involved in some of their sponsorship deals with BP following a 3-year battle by campaign group Platform to have the details released under Freedom of Information rules. Minutes of Tate’s internal decision making relating to these deals have also been released.

Tate’s decision to release the information, rather than take the matter to appeal, follows a ruling by the Information Tribunal which gave them 35 days to disclose the amount of money received from BP between 1990 and 2006, but allowed more recent sponsorship deals to remain secret. The disclosure shows that BP’s corporate support ranged from £150k a year prior to 2000, to £330k a year from 2002-2007. The figures since 2000 represent less than 1% of Tate’s self-generated income from donations, sales and sponsorship.

Platform has long argued that oil companies are inappropriate sponsors of the arts due to their poor record on environmental issues, and that Tate could afford to turn down sponsorship from BP. By associating itself with Tate, they believe BP is earning itself misplaced recognition and gratitude among opinion-formers. Responding to the released figures, campaigner Anna Galkina said: “The BP sponsorship figures are even lower than we had estimated. For nearly a decade, Tate provided a veneer of respectability to one of the world’s most controversial companies for just £150,000 a year. The figures are embarrassingly small for Tate to go on justifying its BP relationship… Tate can clearly do without BP. A growing wave of universities, faith and government institutions are choosing to divest and break ties with the fossil fuel industry – it’s time for Tate to join them!”

According to the newly released minutes relating to the sponsorship decisions, Tate’s Ethics Committee reviewed BP’s sponsorship in 2010, including scrutiny of BP’s tar sands projects and some legal cases against BP related to the Deepwater Horizon spill. The minutes note that Tate, which had taken a “public stance on sustainability”, recognised the “reputational risk” of retaining BP as a partner, but nonetheless concluded: “taking a moral stance on the ethics of the Oil and Gas sector… is outside of Tate’s charitable objectives.”

Rosa Curling, Solicitor for Leigh Day, who worked on the case, said: “If public bodies are accepting sponsorship money from corporations such as BP, they must be open about how much they are receiving. Tate’s actions have prevented proper public debate over the acceptability of the sponsorship, based on actual figures, for over three years. We hope that Tate will now change its approach and act in a more open and transparent manner about corporate sponsorship from now on.”

Liz Hill


I spent an afternoon listening to the Platform team of 3 who say they put the BP/Tate protest together talking about their success at Glastonbury last year. There is a Channel 4(?) reporter who loves the controversy they cause so they phone her each time they are planning a stunt – the more televisual the better, they explained in their public talk. They are two girls and a boy, quite fresh faced and eager. They are very keen on drama. They began by performing chunks of Shakespeare with bits changed to get stuff in about ‘oil’ and ‘nasty business’ and ‘conglomerates’ (Well, maybe not ‘conglomerates’ – it would be difficult to scan in iambic pentameter). After using and modifying the words of Shakespeare in these skits to fit their agenda they explained how utterly despicable they thought it was that BP should modify art (by corrupting its purity through sponsorship) to fit its agenda of world domination and destroying the world. I wondered if there was an irony that they had also modified art, an act they so decried in BP. I also was not sure that BP had modified their art, but perhaps they have in clever ways. Platform is against ‘classicism and other forms of oppression’, perhaps the Bard, being, probably ‘classic’ (whatever that means, but anyway, he’s famous) means his work is OK for traducing because it is a form of oppression. Is Tate’s art, being weird and arty, so not ‘classical, why Platform is in such a bother that it is being traduced? BP, they said, was engaged on destroying and dominating the world at the same time, which is surely counterproductive to either intent. But, I suppose, if only silly people run BP, they themselves would not have spotted this. Their complaint was not the extraction of oil, but its consumption causing global warming (and also that BP was horrible). I wanted to ask them in the Q & A at the end why they didn’t therefore mount their protest against everyone at Glastonbury instead. It was they who had arrived by car, for a jolly, not even to put in in an ambulance or something really important. But I missed my chance. However they state they believe in “expression of mutual respect, setting boundaries, taking care of and showing consideration for each other” which was maybe why they were nice to everyone else in the tent and avoided this idea. And people at Glasto aren’t horrible like people at BP. They told us how brave they were (several times) and expressed a disappointment that the capitalist lackey (my words, they did not use the agit-prop language of the previous generation, but I assume that is what they meant) Tate guards would not bash them up for the nice lady reporter for Channel 4 however hard they tried to get them to.