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200 sign letter demanding end to BP sponsorship

Campaigners outside British Museum, September 2015
  • Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance, artist Conrad Atkinson, composer Matthew Herbert and author Naomi Klein among 200 signatories
  • Pushback follows announcement of renewed 5-year BP sponsorship deals with British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company
  • Signatories include representatives of struggles against BP’s drilling around the world

217 arts and culture professionals, scientists and campaigners have signed a damning letter in today’s Times, calling for BP’s new 5-year sponsorship deals with the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Opera House and Royal Shakespeare Company to be cancelled.

The signatories argue: “These institutions’ decisions are badly out of step with the mood of their own staff and audiences”. The announcement of the new deals last week was met with condemnation from campaigners and an assurance that protests and art interventions against BP sponsorship would escalate - including a public ‘Splashmob’ in the British Museum in September.

Prominent signatories include actors Mark Rylance and Ezra Miller, writer and activist Naomi Klein, Nigerian poet, campaigner and winner of the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) Nnimmo Bassey, environmentalists Jonathon Porritt and Bill McKibben, composer Matthew Herbert, artist Conrad Atkinson, climate science historian Naomi Oreskes, and West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda.

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Clayton Thomas-Müller, a prominent Canadian Cree activist and signatory of the letter, said:

“By signing this new deal with BP, the British Museum is helping the oil company drill more wells and build more pipelines - poisoning Indigenous communities and destroying our planet’s future. Once again, the British Museum is on the wrong side of history. With public culture supporting fossil fuel colonialism, it’s up to frontline struggles to keep the oil in the soil.”

Anna Galkina, a campaigner with Platform (part of the Art Not Oil coalition), said:

“Oil sponsorship is meant to buy artists’ silence and audiences’ approval, and silence the people who live on the frontlines of oil extraction and climate change. This letter shows that more and more artists, culture professionals and academics are no longer happy standing by while BP brands the UK’s biggest museums and theatres for a pittance. BP is wrecking the climate and wrecking lives, from the Gulf of Mexico to West Papua, and deserves to be cast out of our culture.”

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Campaigners after a 200-strong protest performance at the British Museum, September 2015. Photo by Anna Branthwaite.

Earlier this year, BP’s 26-year sponsorship of Tate and 34-year sponsorship of Edinburgh International Festival were ended, following years of protests, art interventions and dissent from prominent artists and performers.

BP claims its sponsorship comes with ‘no strings attached’ but internal emails released by the Art Not Oil coalition have shown this to be untrue. In 2015 BP leant on the British Museum to host a Mexican “Days of the Dead” festival where it was able to meet with members of the Mexican government just weeks before bidding for new drilling licences in the Gulf of Mexico, according to British Museum emails published in a report by the coalition in May. Other emails showed BP convened a security meeting attended by senior staff from sponsored institutions to discuss security measures for responding to peaceful protest. The Museums Association’s Ethics Committee have considered the report’s findings and are expected to issue a statement soon on whether its Code of Ethics has been breached.

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A performer from activist theatre group BP or not BP? at the BP-sponsored "Day of the Dead" event at the British Museum, October 2015. Photo by Diana More.

Among the letter's signatories are representatives of frontline groups, solidarity campaigns and Indigenous struggles against BP’s operations and the impacts of climate change, from Australia to Latin America to the US Gulf Coast to West Papua. They include:

Gilberto Torres speaks inside the British Museum, October 2015. Photo by Kristian Buus.

All four institutions have seen creative protest performances critiquing their relationship with BP.

Theatrical protest group BP or not BP? invaded the RSC’s stages repeatedly in 2012 when BP sponsored a series of plays there, and have now performed without permission in the British Museum 18 times - the most recent three performances being in response to BP’s sponsorship of the current ‘Sunken Cities’ exhibition. Watch films of all their performances. The group of ‘actorvists’ have announced a public ‘Splashmob’ in the museum on 25 September.

Greenpeace also protested on the day the Sunken Cities exhibition opened, climbing the iconic pillars of the museum, which decided to close for several hours in response.

Liberate Tate performed ‘Fifth Assessment’ at several of the institutions (British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, and Royal Opera House), where performers (including actor Ezra Miller) read out the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment report.

The Royal Opera House has also seen several protests inside the auditorium and in Trafalgar Square, during different live BP Big Screen performances.

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Liberate Tate perform "Fifth Assessment" at the National Portrait Gallery. Photo by Martin Lesanto-Smith.

Letter text and signatories:

Re: Another five years of BP-branded culture

BP’s announcement of five-year sponsorship deals with the British Museum, Royal Opera House, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Shakespeare Company is outdated and unacceptable.

We cannot afford another five years of BP-branded culture. We believe museums, theatres and galleries are public institutions that must play a positive role in taking urgent climate action and defending human rights. If the world is to avoid rapid and devastating climate change in the coming decades, most of the oil on BP’s books cannot be burned. Meanwhile, the company continues acting in defiance of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and harming lives every day - despite community resistance from the Gulf Coast to West Papua to Australia.

We know now that BP sponsorship comes with strings attached. A recent report revealed how BP leant on the British Museum to hold events timed with BP’s bid for drilling licenses in Mexico, and how the museum checked in with BP on curatorial decisions.

Branding a major museum or theatre has become cheaper for BP (just £375,000 a year for each institution, on average). This is less than the cost of a short billboard campaign. Surveys show that a majority of Londoners, and the British Museum’s own staff, are against BP sponsorship. These institutions’ decisions are badly out of step with the mood of their own staff and audiences. BP is not welcome to use our culture to promote its destructive business - these deals must be cancelled.

Mark Rylance, Oscar-winning Actor and Director
Conrad Atkinson, Artist, Emeritus Professor, University of California
Naomi Klein, Author and Activist
Professor Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science, Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University
Ezra Miller, Actor
Professor Richard Sandell, Professor of Museum Studies, University of Leicester
Cherri Foytlin, Gulf Coast Resident, Bold Louisiana and Life Support Project
Matthew Herbert, Composer
Bill McKibben, Author and Environmentalist
Clayton Thomas-Müller, Mathais Colomb Cree Nation, Stop it at the Source Campaigner, 350.org
Jonathon Porritt, Environmentalist
Maja S.K. Ratkje, Composer
Benny Wenda, West Papuan independence leader, Free West Papua campaign
Dr Jeremy Leggett, Founding Director, Solarcentury; Founder & Chairman, SolarAid
Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) 2010
John Sauven, Director, Greenpeace UK
Dr David McCoy, Director of Medact and Director of Global Health Teaching, Queen Mary's University London
Bunna Lawrie, Mirning Elder-Whale Songman, Nullarbor/Great Australian Bight
Judith Knight, Director, ArtsAdmin
Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Lubicon Cree First Nation, Climate & Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace Canada
Gill Lloyd Director, ArtsAdmin
Baroness Jenny Jones, London Assembly Member
Rhodri Davies, Musician
Dr Philip Webber, Chair, Scientists for Global Responsibility
Dr Tony Birch, Author, Bruce McGuinness Research Fellow, Moondani Balluk Academic Unit, Victoria University
Ed McKeon, Director, Third Ear Music
Gilberto Torres Martinez, Colombian trade union leader, victim of kidnapping by paramilitary groups backed by BP
Julie Ward MEP, MEP for the Labour Party
Professor Jonathan Oppenheim, UCL
Professor Malcolm Miles, Professor of Cultural Theory, Plymouth University
John Metcalfe, Musician
Dawn King, Award-winning playwright and screenwriter
Clara Paillard, President, PCS Union Culture Sector
May Boeve, Executive Director, 350.org
Andrew Simms, Author
Derrick Evans, Turkey Creek Community Initiatives, Mississippi
Christopher Haydon, artistic director, Gate Theatre
Kelly Lovelady, Artistic Director, Ruthless Jabiru
Lyndon Schneiders, National Campaign Director of the Wilderness Society
Rodney Kelly, Aboriginal activist
Hannah Lawson, PCS Union Chair, National Museum Wales
Filipa Bragança, Actor
Clive Adams, Director, Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World
Amanda Starbuck, Climate and Energy Program Director, Rainforest Action Network
Jim Thatcher, Art Against Blacklisting
Wallace Heim, Writer and Research
Charlotte Webster, Founder & Director, Human Nature Show Ltd
Megan Henwood, Musician
Kay Michael, Artistic Director, Empty Deck Theatre
Ben Twist Director, Creative Carbon Scotland
Dr Matt Lodder, Lecturer in Contemporary Art, University of Essex
Dr Chris Fairless, Meteorologist and Climate Scientist
Peter Owen, Director of Wilderness Society South Australia
Sophie Gainsley, Illustrator and Artist
David Somervell, Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, University of Edinburgh
Trevor MacFarlane, Cultural affairs manager, European Parliament (Labour Party, S&D)
CJ Mitchell, Co-Director, Live Art Development Agency
Dr Gary Anderson, Senior Lecturer in Drama, Liverpool Hope University
Lois Keidan, Co-Director, Live Art Development Agency
Kieran Hurley, Playwright
Candy Udwin, PCS Union, National Gallery
Annet Henneman, Director of Teatro di Nascosto - Hidden Theatre
Paula Benson, Artistic Director, Get Over It Productions
Anthony Roberts, Director, Colchester Arts Centre
Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director, Scientists for Global Responsibility
Dr Andy Fugard, UCL; Founding Member, Association for Psychosocial Studies
Leah Borromeo, Disobedient Films
Professor Neil Cummings, University of the Arts London
Tom Lebert, Senior Programme Officer: Resources and Conflict Programme, War on Want
Louise M. Fitzgerald, On behalf of Fossil Free Berlin
Dr Anna Bull Researcher, Kings College London
Lola Perrin Composer and Pianist
Paul Whitty Composer
Lucy Frears Associate Lecturer, Falmouth University
Claire James Campaign Against Climate Change
Dr Chris Garrard Composer and Campaigner
Darragh Martin Children's Book Writer
Beth Johnson Designer
Ben Comeau Pianist and Composer
Ragnhild Freng Dale Campaigner and Performer
Lucy Patterson Composer and Pianist
Ellen Victoria Timothy Singer and Musician
Lucy Ellinson Actor
Dr Paula Serafini Arts educator
Mel Evans Author, artist
Jim Telford Composer and Researcher
Dan Jeffries Composer
Dr Geoffrey J Supran, Harvard University
Mieke Bal Cultural critic, video artist
David Cross Artist, Reader, UAL
Amanda Grimm, Former professional ballet dancer
Claire Robertson, Campaigner
Paul Burgess, Theatre designer and director
Karen Bates, Artist and campaigner
Hugh Chapman, Artist and campaigner
Dominic Latham, Director, MinuteWorks design studio
James Marriott, Artist, Platform
Jane Lawson, Artist
Sai Murray, Poet
Beka Economopoulos, Co-founder, The Natural History Museum
Jason Jones Co-founder, Not An Alternative
Dr Alice Bell Campaigner and science writer
James Brady Artist and curator
Emily Johns Visual artist
Theresa Easton Artist
Rebecca Beinart Artist and educator
Ruth Potts Artist, Bread, Print & Roses
Molly Conisbee Artist, Bread, Print & Roses
Tim Jeeves Artist
Velenzia Spearpoint Actor & Theatre Maker, Co-founder Get Over It Productions
Dr Hamza Hamouchene Algeria Solidarity Campaign
Emma Cameron Stage manager
Professor Peter Newell University of Sussex
Fay Roberts poet and musician
Richard Tyrone Jones performance poet, writer and comedian
Brian Briggs musician
Harry Giles poet, trustee, The Forest (SCIO)
Dan Barnard lead artist, FanSHEN
Luke Lewis Composer
Ben Bailes Lighting designer
Sophie Walker Spoken word poet
Ruth Ben-Tovim Encounters Arts
Kate Joyce creative writing tutor
Liz Hodgson Singer
Isa Suarez Composer
Jess Worth Writer and performer, BP or not BP?
Bridget McKenzie Educator and Consultant, Flow UK
Jo Tyabji Performer and Director, Ivo Theatre
Martin Bassant Retired deputy headteacher
Miranda Shaw Violin teacher
George Roberts Poet
Angie Dight Artist
Andrew Blackwool Arts manager
Louise Allan Arts manager
Danny Chivers Performance poet and author
Mika Minio-Paluello Author, campaigner, Platform
Hanna Thomas, Campaigner, SumOfUs
Beth Rice PhD Science Researcher
Drew Pearce PhD Science Researcher
Thomas Frank Artist and Activist
Athena Corcoran-Tadd Composer
David Shaw Musician and teacher
Francesca Shaw Musician, composer and writer
Karen Savage Life Support Project
Mark Jones Artist
Imani Jacqueline Brown Artist
Rosemary Lee Artist
Rachael Taylor Artist
Phoebe Demeger Activist and Writer
Christopher Kelly Designer
Rhiannon Kelly Performer
Diana Morant Human rights campaigner
Sian Rees PhD Researcher, Goldsmiths College and Activist
Georgia Brown Artist
Simona Azurduy Expression inka
Emiliana Bolivar London Latinxs
Juana Zapata Movimiento Jaguar Despierto
Frantz Wretched of the Earth
Liam Barrington-Bush London Mining Network
Jimena Pardo Artist
Charlie Phillips Filmmaker
Anne-Marie Culhane Artist and community activist
Jules Lowe Artist
Hasse Farmen Musician
Ellie Harrison Artist
Miranda Pennell Filmmaker
Drager Meurtant artist
Dr Michael Hrebeniak University of Cambridge
Daisy Anna Lees Arts La'olam
Eleni Papaioannou Artist
Harry Mann Poet
Lizzie Homersham Writer
Ingrid Kleiva Møller Øya Festival
Patrick Jones Artist
Meg Ulman Artist
Alex Hetherington Curator and visual artist
Dr Alice Klevnäs Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University
Johanna Mitterhofer Researcher
Emma Frankland Artist
Khadiza Shahid Social activist
Stefan Szczelkun Artist
Rafael S Guillén UK Zapatista Movement
Livvy Murdoch Arts educator
Anders Lustgarden Playwright
Andrew Day Earth Quaker Action UK
Kristen Irving Poet and Publisher
Jon Stone Poet and Publisher
Steve Lyons Artist and art historian, Not An Alternative
Jane Trowell Arts educator, Platform
Sheila Menon Freelance Film Maker
Matthew Chester Biologist
Phil England Co-founder, Resonance FM
Anna Lau Poet
Lorraine Leeson Artist
Kate Honey Composer
Isidora Markovic Artist
María Gómez Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group
Juan Pérez Kiptik (Bristol)
José Hernández London Mexico Solidarity
Guadalupe Fernández Manchester Zapatista Collective
Camilo Rodríguez Meso-America Solidarity Action Liverpool
Ernesto Moctezuma UK Zapatista Education, Culture and Communication team
Marcos Juárez UK Zapatista Translation Service
Iván Maldonaldo Zapatista Solidarity Group
Jacob Thompson-Bell Composer
Lázaro Cárdenas H.I.J.O.S. México
Jessica Bell Artist
Steve Larkin Poet
Joanna Kalm Artist
Bridget Lappin Artist
Daniel Persson Artist
Isa Fremeaux Artist, Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination
John Jordan Artist, Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination
Kevin Smith Art Not Oil Coalition
Dr Benjamin Franta Associate, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Hannah Davey Liberate Tate
Holly Dove, musician and writer