Last Tuesday (13 September) the executive director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, met with the director of the British Museum, Dr Hartwig Fischer, to discuss the museum’s continued sponsorship by oil major BP.
Just before noon, the meeting was followed by a string quartet in the museum’s iconic covered courtyard, playing ‘Requiem for Sinking Cities’.
The piece was a reworking of classical music previously played outside Shell’s London headquarters with Charlotte Church, in protest against its involvement in Arctic oil drilling. The performance included the delivery of over 25,000 messages from people opposed to the British Museum’s decision to renew BP’s sponsorship for five more years.
BP ‘a barrier to progress’
Environmental campaigners, backed by actors Emma Thompson, Mark Ruffalo and Mark Rylance, writers Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein and Caryl Churchill, as well as scientists headed by Dame Anne Glover, are calling on the British Museum to end its partnership with BP.
In the Great Court Greenpeace was joined by members of Art Not Oil, who have actively opposed the BP sponsorship since 2009. Around 30 climate NGOs – including Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and 350.org – also added their voices to the call for the British Museum to drop BP.
The three children of Lord Sainsbury, who financed a wing of the British Museum with a £25m donation, have signed a letter to Hartwig Fischer, saying: ‘while governments in Paris committed to transition away from fossil fuels, BP remains a barrier to progress’.
In the latest deal, BP will give just £375,000 a year, less than 1% of annual British Museum income.
Earlier this year, a long-running sponsorship deal between BP and Tate ended after a six-year campaign by artists and activists concerned by the association with a company whose actions contribute to extreme weather, destructive storms and rising seas.
‘It is incomprehensible that the company which caused one of the worst environmental and social disasters of all time, with Deep Water Horizon oil spill, is allowed to claw back social credibility by giving money to an institution devoted to conservation. We are here to ask the Museum’s director how they can possibly justify this.
‘With sponsorship deals up for renewal over the summer, this would have been a golden opportunity for the British Museum to follow the Tate’s lead and end their compromising association with BP.
‘Oil is not the future. Oil is air pollution stuck on our children’s lungs; it’s the Arctic melting at an unprecedented speed and 14 consecutive months of record-breaking temperature. People’s houses are disappearing under water with more extreme flooding including in the UK. By accepting money from the oil industry the British Museum is legitimising their practices and its consequences. It is immoral and unacceptable.’
Executive director of Greenpeace UK
Influencing curatorial decisions
An investigation published in May by Art Not Oil revealed that BP played a significant part in decisions over the content of major British Museum exhibitions.
Documents obtained via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request contained evidence that the oil giant was consulted on curatorial decisions on exhibitions that held strategic political and commercial value for BP.
Greenpeace activists have previously scaled the British Museum in protest at BP’s sponsorship of their ‘Sunken Cities’ exhibition. The climbers hung eight huge banners down the front columns of the museum, carrying the names of cities and regions struck by flooding and climate change disasters.
Click here to find out more about the Art Not Oil Coalition.
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