Open Letter Calls On British Museum to Drop BP Name[ad_1]
Dozens of artists, cultural workers, scientists, and climate advocates are calling on outgoing British Museum Director Hartwig Fischer to rename the institution’s BP Lecture Theatre and end all sponsorship by companies and individuals in the fossil fuel industry. An open letter published August 4 by the advocacy organization Culture Unstained states that the ongoing involvement of BP and other oil and gas companies in cultural philanthropy “lends them an undeserved and dangerous social legitimacy and influence.”
The name on the British Museum’s 330-seat BP Lecture Theatre is a physical trace of the institution’s 27-year-long partnership with the oil company. In June, the Guardian reported that the museum had not renewed its contract with BP. The publication reportedly deployed freedom of information requests and found that the museum stated “there are no other contracts or agreements in effect between the museum and BP” and that the last contract expired in February of this year.
The British Museum, however, never confirmed outright that it had ended the sponsorship deal, telling Hyperallergic in June, “We have not ended our partnership with bp. bp is a valued long term supporter of the Museum and our current partnership runs until this year.”
“In times of reduced public funding, corporate sponsors like bp allow us to fulfill our mission,” the museum said.
A spokesperson provided Hyperallergic the same statement when questioned about its contract with BP today, August 7, and declined to comment on the open letter.
“Renaming the lecture theatre would send a powerful message about the future the Museum wants to see, by visibly allying itself with future generations,” reads Cultured Unstained’s open letter, signed by 80 people including artist Nan Goldin and environmental journalist Gaia Vince.
The letter also draws parallels to the infamous Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma, which made and sold Oxycontin while concealing the drug’s strength and highly addictive quality. Goldin, whose name leads the list of signatories, has driven a movement that has forced museums to reckon with the sordid history of the Sacklers, who donated extensively to arts institutions across the United States. Goldin’s organization Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN) stages public actions to protest museums’ acceptance of Sackler money and public display of the family name as well as advocate for opioid addiction treatment programs. The movement has been largely successful, and the British Museum removed the Sackler name last March — for the most part.
“Just as cultural institutions around the world have removed the Sackler Family name as evidence of the harmful ways their money was made came to light, the damning evidence on BP’s past — and present — can no longer be ignored,” reads the letter.
Culture Unstained’s missive is only the latest outcry over the British Museum and BP’s relationship. Activists have protested the museum’s partnership with the company for years, often employing visually creative means. Togas and a Trojan Horse have made appearances in actions staged by a number of different advocacy organizations.
Despite a steady stream of protesters trickling into its halls, the British Museum was among the last United Kingdom arts institutions linked to the gas giant. The Edinburgh International Festival cut ties with BP in 2016, and the Tate museums decided not to renew a contract with the company that same year (although the institution claimed this was a business decision uninfluenced by public outcry). The National Galleries of Scotland and London’s Royal Shakespeare Company ended their relationships with BP in 2019. London’s National Portrait Gallery announced it would end its funding agreement in February 2022. In January, the Royal Opera House also ended its BP partnership.
The recent open letter points out that BP earned $1.8 billion in profits during the second quarter of 2023 and notes that the company’s business plans “do not deliver the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels we so urgently need.” It also alleges “environmental destruction and human rights violations,” including lobbying efforts against climate legislation and ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“For the British Museum to align with BP, even symbolically, is to perpetuate and normalize the harm that has been caused,” climate activist Tori Tsui, who signed the letter, said in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “It is imperative that the British Museum stands on the right side of history in the fight for climate justice by removing BP’s logo from its venue.”
A symbolic renaming of the theater would be one of Hartwig’s last moves as director before he leaves the museum in 2024 after eight years on the job.
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