Four of the UK’s biggest cultural organisations – the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House and Tate – have announced they are to renew sponsorship deals with BP worth £10m despite opposition from environmental campaigners.
The institutions have faced repeated protests in recent years for taking money from the oil giant. The leaders of all four gathered together in a show of solidarity and said the sponsorship would continue until 2017.
Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said there were protests every year at its BP-sponsored portrait prize. He said: “We absolutely respect the right of those who wish to protest and we would always think about any sponsorship very carefully.” But he said BP’s support over the years had been “extraordinary” and there had been “unanimous clarity” among the gallery’s board of trustees in agreeing to renew the deal.
The Tate director, Nicholas Serota, said his organisation had thought very hard about the sponsorship and had looked at it again in 2010 and this year. “The board has thought very carefully about this and decided it was the right thing to do to continue with BP, who have been great supporters of the arts,” he said.
Protests against BP’s involvement intensified after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but Serota said: “The fact that they have one major incident in 2010 does not mean we should not take support from them.”
BP’s sponsorship of the arts has been longstanding and substantial and it said the future £10m over five years would be roughly equally divided between the four organisations.
Tate Britain has also been the target of protests including one outside its summer party last year, when protesters poured oil and feathers on the pavement. BP’s support for its British art displays, which will undergo a major rehang in 2013, will continue.
At the Royal Opera House, BP will continue to support the Big Screen live relays of opera and ballet from Covent Garden to sites around the country. And at the British Museum BP has sponsored exhibitions such as Italian Renaissance Drawings and the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and will continue to give support over the next five years including sponsorship of a Vikings show in 2014.
The culture minister, Ed Vaizey, said: “BP’s renewed commitment to four of Britain’s great cultural institutions is extremely welcome. This is a significant investment, with £10m going directly towards staging world-class exhibitions and performances. For more than 20 years BP has led the way in business support for the arts and I am delighted that this will continue over the next five years.”
Kevin Smith, of the art campaign group Platform, said: “By aligning themselves with BP, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House and Tate Britain are legitimising the devastation of indigenous communities in Canada through tar sands extraction, the expansion of dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic, and the reckless business practices that lead to the deaths of 11 oil workers on the Deepwater Horizon. BP’s involvement with these institutions represents a serious stain on the UK’s cultural patrimony.”
BP’s managing director, Iain Conn, said the company felt it important “that we make a meaningful contribution to society here in the UK. Our work with these partner institutions is a major part of this – enabling people around the country and the world to connect through the experience of outstanding exhibitions and performances, promoting ideas and encouraging creativity.”