On Sunday, a coalition of anti-oil activists held a ‘public but unauthorised’ conference at the Science Museum, highlighting the institution’s continued ties with the fossil fuel industry.
The group took over the entrance to the museum’s Cosmonauts exhibition, currently sponsored by BP, and unfurled banners next to a lectern. Many visitors joined the event and showed their support by joining in discussions and taking flyers.
Activists celebrated earlier this month at the news the Science Museum plans to drop Shell as a sponsor, but are now demanding BP, the sponsor of the current Cosmonauts exhibition, must now go as well. They are also concerned that the chair of fracking industry body UKOOG, Averil Macdonald – who recently made headlines with controversial comments on women and fracking – sits on the Science Museum’s board of trustees.
Members of BP-or-not-BP – best known for their theatrical interventions at the Royal Shakespeare Company and British Museum – presented work based on Freedom of Information requests to the Science Museum. This caused scandal earlier this year when it was revealed that Shell had tried to influence the presentation of the climate change gallery it was sponsoring at the Science Museum. They joined forces with the Progressive Science Institute, a group of PhD students and scientists who believe science should not pretend to be separate from many of the political, economic and social realities which play a huge role in all our lives.
Museum visitors were also presented with research from Greenpeace’s investigations unit, as well as presentations on energy demand reduction, divestment and the social history of technology.
Protest against oil sponsorship has tended to focus on arts spaces in the UK. However, in the US, relationships between science museums and the fossil fuel industry have come under increasing scrutiny over the last year.
In March, an open letter signed by dozens of climate scientists and environmental groups called for museums of science and natural history to “cut all ties” with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists like the Koch brothers. Signatories included James Hansen, Climatologist, James Power, former President and Director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, and Michael Mann, Meteorologist.
Pressure on museums to cut ties with fossil fuel industries are likely to increase as we approach the UN climate talks in December. A three day ‘public but unauthorised’ arts festival at the Tate has been called for December 4th-6th by Platform.
A spokesperson for the Progressive Science Institute said:
The Science Museum has a duty to promote scientific solutions to the biggest problem humanity faces: Climate Change. It cannot afford to be linked with those that are causing it.
Chris, who spoke about FOIs and is a member of BP or Not BP, said:
In return for meagre donations, BP and Shell get their logos on the wall of our top museums and galleries, helping to cleanse their tarnished brands. We’ve shifted away from taking money from the tobacco industry – now we need to do the same with oil.
‘#dropBP’ was projected onto the British Museum throughout BP’s annual business reception.
Last night, London’s elite gathered at the British Museum, which provided a magnificent backdrop for BP’s annual business reception. Government ministers, corporate leaders and leading journalists rubbed smartly-turned-out shoulders (dress code: business attire – see official invitation below) as the oil giant schmoozed them with drinks, canapes, speeches and a private viewing of the museum’s new Celts exhibition.
BP’s CEO Bob Dudley himself was there to greet them, flanked by outgoing British Museum director and self-proclaimed BP enthusiast Neil MacGregor. VIP attendees included: Lady Neville-Rolfe, a minister from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and former Tesco director; Lord Patten, former Tory minister and chair of the BBC, who serves on BP’s international advisory committee; and Robert Peston, the BBC’s economics editor.
Other invitees included staff from the British Science Association (BP sponsors CREST, their ‘flagship programme for young people’), and representatives of consultancies that help BP do business, such as Menas Associates, which provides BP with intelligence on ‘political, strategic and security issues in the emerging markets of the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America’.
The British Museum’s gleaming marble walls provide the perfect canvas for BP to project its own detoxified image. It launders its dirty washing though our museum’s publicly-funded revolving doors, and comes out smelling of Great British Values. From BP’s perspective this is a major motivation behind its long-running sponsorship deal with the museum.
But BP didn’t get the total aesthetic domination that it had paid for last night. Some actorvist pixies armed with a projector managed to brand the museum’s famous façade with a rather different message – one that is becoming increasingly hard to ignore.
As the great and the good filed in for their free booze, the museum’s pillars began to bear the legend ‘#dropBP’, and continued to do so throughout the reception, despite the efforts of some not-entirely on-side bouncers.
The writing was on the wall – literally – for the British Museum last night. As it decides, in the next few months, whether to renew its five-year deal with BP, it can expect many more acts of creative dissent, until it does the right thing and drops BP for good.
Official invitation from BP to John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, obtained through a freedom of information request.
For interviews contact firstname.lastname@example.org and transcripts of Freedom Of Information responses can be found at the end of this blog post.
Today, we revealed that the Science Museum’s controversial sponsorship deal with Shell will end this December. In response to a Freedom of Information request from BP or not BP?, the museum confirmed that it “…does not have plans to renew its existing sponsorship deal or initiate a new deal or funding agreement with Royal Dutch Shell.”
The partnership came under scrutiny earlier this year when BP or not BP? uncovered emails showing that Shell’s staff had attempted to influence the museum’s “Atmosphere” climate science exhibition. Anti-oil-sponsorship campaigners have welcomed the news, but today announced that they would hold a protest inside the museum against the museum’s continuing partnership with BP.
Chris Garrard from BP or not BP?, said:
“Shell should never have been allowed to sponsor an exhibition on climate science. It’s no secret that Shell relentlessly lobbies against measures to tackle climate change – but the Science Museum went ahead with this ill-advised deal nonetheless. This is a step in the right direction, but the museum needs to stop legitimising the fossil fuel industry completely by ditching its deal with BP too.”
Shell was a sponsor of the museum’s “Launchpad” space from 2007-2010 and then became a sponsor of the climate science exhibition, “Atmosphere”, for 2010-2015, in return for just £200,000 per year. This represented roughly 0.25% of the Science Museum’s income in that period. Shell’s emails to the museum asked for a discussion event on climate change to be made “invite-only”, in order to avoid criticism of its operations, and for the wording of some exhibition labels to be altered.
BP is currently the sponsor of the Science Museum’s “Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age” exhibition. On Sunday 22ndNovember, the Progressive Science Instituteand BP or not BP? will join forces to hold a “guerrilla conference” inside the museum, exposing the ills of oil sponsorship. BP also co-hosts “The Ultimate STEM Challenge” with the Science Museum, a competition where schoolchildren are invited to undertake BP-themed challenges, such as finding the design for the “most efficient [oil] tanker”. 
Dr Alice Bell, former Science Museum employee and science policy campaigner, said:
“As a very junior member of staff at the Science Museum back in the 00s, I remember several of us feeling uncomfortable with the BP and Shell logos around our galleries. This sort of conflict of interest would be shocking if it was a newspaper or TV show – it’s hard to imagine how the museum can expect the public to trust them. The most worrying thing is how this sort of sponsorship can buy companies a lack of scrutiny. Shell and BP shouldn’t be sponsoring climate and energy galleries, they should be exhibits in them – historical artefacts to be unpicked and understood. The history of the oil industry helped shape the world we live in – for good and bad – and it’s exactly the sort of thing the museum should be interrogating and sharing with the world.”
On 6th November, the Museums Association approved a new set of ethical guidelines at its annual conference, which will require museums and galleries to ensure that sponsors share the institution’s “ethical values”.  It follows an escalation of creative protests in recent years at cultural institutions that accept oil sponsorship money. BP currently sponsors the Tate, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Opera House as part of a block five-year deal, one that campaigners are pushing to be dropped when it expires in 2017. The PCS Union, which represents workers at many oil-sponsored cultural institutions including the Science Museum, passed a motion in May at their annual conference to formally oppose oil sponsorship.
BP-sponsored event in the British Museum taken over by protest.
Last night, 50 Latin American and British activists joined together to mount a highly visual performance-protest during the British Museum’s ‘Day of the Dead’ festival. The evening event was co-sponsored by BP and the Mexican government, and campaigners accuse the museum of playing host to a ‘deadly partnership’ which is covering up a host of human rights and environmental abuses.
Face painted BP characters roamed the museum’s Great Court. (Photo: Diana More)
Six sinister characters, with deathly “Day of the Dead” painted faces, played the roles of BP and the Mexican government, striking dirty deals and stamping out dissent. Meanwhile, other performers created a “living shrine” to celebrate the communities fighting back against destructive oil projects and state repression in Mexico.
The performance was repeated around the museum, and at one point a group of campaigners invaded the Museum’s official stage with banners criticising BP and the Mexican government. The invasion received loud cheers and applause from the audience and visible support from the official performers, who laid one of the group’s banners out on the stage before it was removed by museum staff. Museum security were eventually forced to allow the rebel performance to happen beside the stage in its own agreed time slot, without interruption from the sound system or the scheduled entertainment.
The performers take over the museum’s Great Court. (Photo: Diana More)
The performers remained in the Museum until closing time, with the deathly BP characters roaming the space and interacting with Museum visitors. Campaigners distributed 1,000 flyers and gained overwhelming support from the public.
The evening-long protest-performance embarrassed BP as it attempts to sell itself to Mexican officials and the public. It was co-organised by London Mexico Solidarity and BP or not BP? and highlighted BP’s environmental destruction, human rights abuses and lobbying against climate action. It also accused the Mexican government of trying to distract attention from human rights abuses – including the disappearance a year ago of 43 students – and of co-opting arts and culture to attract foreign investors to its newly-privatised oil and gas sector.
A member of London Mexico Solidarity who took part in the performance said:
Tonight we exposed the reality of the dirty relationship between BP, the Mexican Government and the British Museum. We stood in solidarity with the many thousands of people in Mexico who are fighting back against destructive oil and gas projects and state repression.
Jess Worth of BP or not BP? said:
The audience response to our stage invasion should leave the Museum in no doubt that BP is a deeply unpopular sponsor, and the Mexican government partnership is problematic, given its track record on human rights. It’s time the Museum listened to its visitors and ditched these dodgy partnerships.
One of the performers plays the Mexican President, attempting to drown out the living shrine. (Photo: Diana More)
BP is currently trying to dramatically increase its access to Mexico’s oil and gas, in particular more deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico, despite the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon disaster which has polluted Mexico’s waters and coastline. As Mexico recovers from Hurricane Patricia – the strongest hurricane ever recorded – the country is also already feeling the effects of climate change caused by burning fossil fuels.
The British Museum is coming under increasing pressure over its 5-year sponsorship deal with BP. It is due to decide whether to renew the deal over the next few months, and protest performances regularly disrupt the museum.
Photos of the 43 missing students left among candles on the British Museum’s steps. (Photo: Diana More)
BP and the Mexican Government sponsor the Day of the Dead
A member of London Mexico Solidarity writes about why we’re gatecrashing the British Museum’s event tonight…
London-Mexico Solidarity group protest during last year’s Day of the Dead event in Bargehouse. Credit: LMS
You really couldn’t make it up. This week, BP and the Mexican government are co-sponsoring a four-day-long Day of the Dead festival at the British Museum. Both are trying to improve their public images by associating themselves with Mexico’s world-famous festival and London’s world-famous museum. But behind the sugar skulls and colourful shrines to the dead there is a much darker tale of greed, corruption, death and pollution. On Friday evening, the London-Mexico Solidarity group and BP or not BP? plan to crash BP and Mexico’s deadly party and expose the truth.
The event is part of a much bigger and extremely expensive marketing strategy: the Dual Year of UK and Mexico 2015. Officially described as ‘a year-long celebration of cultural, educational and business exchange’ between the two nations, the #UKMX2015 (as it is known) gives a false image of democracy and economic progress. Made possible through two decades of collaboration between the UK government and a succession of mercilessly corrupt Mexican politicians, today it is using art and culture to further its underlying aim: to allow Mexican oligarchs and transnational companies like BP to privatise previously state-owned companies, and get hold of natural resources.
This economic consortium can only thrive in an increasingly militarized Mexico, in which drug cartels collaborate with the government and foreign corporations to ensure their profits. This is worsening a humanitarian crisis that has already taken the lives of more than 151,000 people, and seen the disappearance of more than 25,700 people, and the forced migration of millions, while 80% of Mexicans are trapped in poverty.
London-Mexico Solidarity group protest during last year’s Day of the Dead event in Bargehouse. Credit: LMS
The British Museum has a long-standing relationship with Mexican politicians. Former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari raised millions of dollars with leading business figures in Mexico to open the ‘Mexico Gallery’ in 1994. In that very same year, the devastating NAFTA trade agreement took off, and de Gortari was involved in war crimes and ethnic cleansing in the state of Chiapas.
The Museum also has a long-term relationship with BP, which has been a major sponsor for 20 years, and puts its brand on high-profile exhibitions from Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation to Vikings: Life and Legend. Campaigners from the Art Not Oil coalition have staged a series of performance protests at the museum, calling for the non-renewal of the current BP sponsorship deal when it expires in 2017.
BP has an even longer history of collaboration with corrupt Mexican governments. Indeed, another former president, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León – responsible for the Acteal,Aguas Blancas and el Charco massacres – is today one of BP’s international advisors.
The oil giant has been in the country over 50 years, and has a long-standing partnership with Pemex, the state-owned oil company. However, current president Peña Nieto’s controversial recent energy reforms have sparked attempts by BP and other international oil companies to dramatically expand their involvement in the country.
The ‘Energy Reform Act’, passed in undemocratic circumstances by deputies and senators, essentially privatises Pemex and opens up vast swathes of Mexico to oil exploitation for the first time. The government is now actively encouraging foreign companies to come in and exploit, extract and transport oil, profiting from a tax haven and favourable royalties. They will enjoy total legal impunity when it comes to damaging the environment and aggravating Mexico’s political and humanitarian crisis.
In September, BP won its first bid to drill in shallow waters off Mexico’s Gulf Coast. But its main interest is in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, despite its responsibility for 2010’s Deepwater Horizon spill which was one of history’s most terrible environmental disasters. Neither the current nor the previous Mexican government has held BP to account for this. There has been no compensation for Mexican communities affected by the spill, including thousands of fishers. Some are now independently suing BP. Despite all this, BP is being allowed to bid to drill more deepwater wells in Mexico’s waters next spring.
BP is mainly investing in Mexico through its partnerships with Ienova, PanAmerican Energy, E&P Hidrocarburos and CFE. These and other oil and gas companies are not only pushing to introduce fracking and other destructive extraction techniques, they have also caused multiple conflicts with Indigenous and rural communities.
The oil industry uses the Mexican state as an arm to repress public opposition. Peña Nieto is not only known for promoting privatization, but also for using the state to commit crimes in the interest of the rich and powerful. During his period as governor of the State of Mexico, he enhanced femicide and oppressed peaceful demonstrations in Atenco. He is responsible for at least ten massacres during his period as president, where the practice of extortion, enforced disappearance and torture by state forces have become the normal techniques for suppressing all opposition to its reforms.
Bring back the students!
The Mexican embassy in the UK is also responsible for using public money to hide the political and economic crisis in Mexico, and for helping the government mislead the public in the case of the 43 missing students. On September the 26th 2014, the municipal police of Iguala, Guerrero, conspired with organized criminals, the federal police, and the army, to attack students from the rural teacher-training college Raúl Isidro Burgos, in Ayotzinapa. Six people were killed, more than 20 injured, and 43 students were forcibly disappeared.
Peña Nieto ordered embassies to repeat the official version that the state had nothing to do with it, and to hide Mexico’s human rights crisis in order to attract foreign investors.
But thanks to world-leading forensic experts and to the intervention of the OEA (Organisation of American States), the lies told by the Mexican government about the case have been exposed. Peña Nieto, and all those who have been misleading the investigation and giving a false image of Mexico have been shown to be responsible for this crime of the state.
The British Museum’s Day of the Dead festival will include a shrine to migrants. This is deeply ironic given the tragedies that Central American migrants are facing when they encounter the Mexican authorities. Rape and torture are as common as water in a situation where many children have died in their attempts to cross the border.
Today, Mexico is increasing the deportation of migrants, in some cases even returning more migrants than the USA. The San Fernando massacre of 72 immigrants is a reminder of the treatment that migrants receive in Mexico, and the total impunity that goes along with it.
Decolonise the British Museum!
We would like to see the British Museum stop collaborating with BP, which seeks to destroy ecosystems and human life for profit. It must also stop partnering with the Mexican government until there is peace and accountability in Mexico. And it must stop benefiting from making Mexico seem exotic, while omitting any mention of its past and current struggles against the state and private companies.
We can only create better relationships between our countries if we decolonise our institutions completely, here and there. The British Museum and other cultural institutions will continue to be agents of colonisation until they stop taking decisions about cultural collaborations on behalf of communities without their input. Communities should be allowed to take these decisions. Museums are not companies but public spaces. Visitors are not consumers but citizens.
In protesting against this partnership between BP, the Mexican government and the British Museum, we recognise it is connected to many other struggles.
We stand in solidarity with migrants trying to come to the UK and Europe, and the migrants crossing Mexico. We stand in solidarity with all those who are fighting transnational companies and oil development in Mexico. We stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities everywhere who are defending nature, and fighting against pillage, land-grabs and pollution.
We also stand in solidarity with museum staff fighting against privatisation, trying to achieve greater collaboration between communities and museums, and who want to get rid of BP as a sponsor. Together, we can crash this deadly party, and take a stand for the living. This is the other #UKMX2015.
 ‘Further undermining the credibility of Zedillo’s commitment to prosecute those responsible for the Acteal massacre is the outcome of the investigation into the June 1995 Aguas Blancas massacre in the state of Guerrero. In that instance, state police ambushed and shot to death 17 unarmed peasants belonging to an opposition group. Though the incident was videotaped and the Supreme Court found evidence that the police had acted on orders from Gov. Ruben Figueroa Alcocer, Figueroa was never charged.
Zedillo has also ignored two recommendations by the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, both of which could help keep Mexico from drifting further into civil conflict. One is to reopen the case of the 1994 execution of civilians from the Ejido Morelia in Chiapas. An independent inquiry would put the army on notice that improper treatment of civilians will no longer go unpunished.’ http://articles.latimes.com/1998/jan/04/opinion/op-4817/2 Zedillo was actually law suited, but a court dismissed the case in 2014: http://eleconomista.com.mx/sociedad/2014/10/06/corte-suprema-eu-desecho-demanda-contra-zedillo; there’s an interesting reflection here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/dec/21/comment.commentanddebate
On Thursday night, BP’s Peter Mather – who claims to have “green and yellow oil” flowing in his veins – took to the airwaves on Radio 4’s “The Bottom Line”. Chris Garrard, a campaigner with Art Not Oil, saw through his boasts about the benefits of BP’s corporate sponsorship.
Evan Davis, host of Radio 4’s ‘The Bottom Line’
The movement against oil sponsorship of museums and galleries is growing from strength to strength, with creative actions by Art Not Oil at BP-sponsored institutions growing in scale and vision. This year alone there has been a festival of performance protest in the British Museum, musical mischief at the Royal Opera House and an all-night artwork in Tate Modern’s turbine hall. Despite this, BP has repeatedly refused to debate us in the media. So, when it was revealed that BP’s Peter Mather would be speaking about corporate sponsorship on Radio 4’s ‘“The Bottom Line”, it was clear that BP is feeling the pressure to defend itself. This would be the first time that BP would publicly answer criticisms about its “artwash” sponsorship.
But while Peter Mather was defending BP on the BBC – ‘we’re very proud to be an oil and gas company… There’s nothing in our portfolio we’re trying to hide’ – a Colombian trade unionist called Gilberto Torres, was completing his speaking tour of the UK. Torres is in the process of taking BP to court over its alleged involvement in his kidnap and torture by a paramilitary group in Casanare, Colombia. He was taken for 42 days, and for several of them, kept in an insect-infested pit. With the details of Gilberto’s case now in the spotlight, Evan Davis should have been asking Mather, “are you sure there’s nothing in your portfolio you’re trying to hide?” Maybe next time the BBC will invite us to ask the awkward questions that Evan overlooked.
Gilberto Torres, speaking about his kidnap and torture in the BP-sponsored British Museum
Evan had begun by asking Mather about the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 and how it had affected BP – “it caused us to have a pretty major rethink about what we are doing and how we are doing it”, Mather conceded. He’s absolutely right. In 2011, BP announced that it would be undertaking a five-year sponsorship deal with four world-renowned cultural institutions – the British Museum, the Royal Opera House, the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery. The following year, despite its committed attempts to derail climate legislation, BP sunk millions into advertising that it was sustainability partner of the London 2012 Olympic games and a corporate sponsor of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s ‘World Shakespeare Festival’. An oil company with a reputation in tatters had set about rebuilding its brand, peppering its logos across elite institutions and events.
“We want to be a good citizen”
As the debate moved on to the motivations for sponsoring, Peter Mather suggested that sponsorship is “much more about general impact on society… We want to be a good citizen, rather than look it.” In reality, and as Peter Mather almost certainly knows, BP spends a great deal more time focussing on how they look than on how they operate, securing that crucial ‘social license’ to operate and the perception that they are trustworthy.
Earlier this year, BP was the sponsor of the British Mueum’s “Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation” exhibition and has now submitted its formal plan to drill four new ultra-deep-water wells in the Great Australian Bight, following extensive seismic testing that conveniently coincided with the exhibition. If experience has taught us anything, it’s that BP doesn’t know how to drill in deep-water safely.
Bunna Lawrie, a traditional owner from the Mirning people, has said, “My greatest concern is that I can not let BP mine oil in the Great Australian Bight…it is the greatest whale nursery on this planet.” But the British Museum tripped up too: many of the communities who lent objects to the Indigenous Australia exhibition weren’t told it would carry a BP logo – a sign that sponsorship was overtaking ethics.
Mather claimed that, “We would never seek to ‘curatorially’ intervene [in an institution we sponsor]”. If BP’s competitors, Shell, are anything to go by we know that isn’t true. A Freedom of Information request revealed that Shell’s staff had sent emails making specific requests about the presentation of the Science Museum’s climate exhibition – “I’d prefer the wording not to focus on environmental damage.”
But the sponsor’s power over decision-making is often more subtle. The director and playwright, Mark Ravenhill, has talked about how there is a “climate of fear in the theatre”, about speaking out, challenging a sponsor’s ethics and risking losing funding. With that fear in the air, BP can advise and suggest, knowing that it can threaten to walk away if it doesn’t get its own way.
“We definitely look for excellence”
By sponsoring the British Museum and others, BP has located itself at the heart of cultural diplomacy and supposed free expression – a shrewd move. When asked about how they seek out organisations to sponsor, Mather admitted, “I think you definitely do want to associate yourself with an excellent organisation.” But what does “excellent” actually mean to BP?
BP has chosen to sponsor the top, some might say ‘elite’, cultural institutions in London, where there are opportunities to reach large audiences. When Evan Davis did raise the argument that BP is attempting to “artwash” its brand, Mather gave himself away in his non-answer: “The key is, those 50 million people who’ve been through BP-sponsored events in the past 30 years – what do they think?” Of course, it’s only those deals where BP can gain the approval of millions, and entertain a government minister from time-to-time, that are seen as worthy of BP’s paltry investment.
“People go to exhibitions and often assume we’ve sponsored them.”
In a period of cuts to the arts, BP has attempted to paint itself as a philanthropist, falsely claiming that it is a crucial lifeline for the institutions its sponsors. It was recently reported that 40 local museums have closed due to funding cuts, yet BP’s money is saved for those at the top, where it can shout about its generosity. As Mather told Evan Davis, “We never like to just give cheques.”
With logos and acknowledgments spread over the British Museum’s “BP Lecture Theatre” and writ large in Trafalgar Square for the “BP Big Screen”, Mather and his colleagues are desperately trying to keep fossil fuels woven into a society that needs a cultural shift to renewable energy. After visiting Tate’s ‘BP Walk Through British Art’, the art critic Brian Sewell once remarked, “I wonder if BP realises how sick of its initials some of us are? Are we soon to buy BP sandwiches in the BP café, drink BP water from the BP waterspout, and dry our hands on BP paper in the BP loo?”
Following an information tribunal, the Tate was forced to reveal just how little money BP gives them. It turned out to be roughly 0.5% of the gallery’s income and, in some years, BP’s annual contribution was as little as £150,000. Over at the British Museum, a Freedom of Information request revealed that BP’s donation between 2000 and 2011 made up roughly 0.8% of the museum’s overall income. They are embarrassingly small amounts for institutions that like to boast about BP’s “generous support”.
Confronted with the charge of ‘greenwash’ by Evan Davis, Mather attempted to spin his way out of a hole. “We were the company probably first out of the blocks to recognise the potential causal link between the burning of fossil fuels and potential climate change. We’ve been working on that agenda pretty tirelessly for a long time.” They have. According to a recent ranking, BP is Europe’s fiercest corporate opponent of action on climate change through its lobbying and, as part of the Oil and Gas Climate group, BP dropped a commitment to carbon pricing just last week.
“Nobody at all has asked us to remove ourselves as sponsors”
The trouble for Peter Mather is that, contrary to his claim on Radio 4, people have been asking for BP to be removed as sponsors. The PCS Union, who represent many workers at the sponsored institutions, have voted to oppose oil sponsorship, hundreds of people have taken part in a host of creative actions in sponsored spaces, and numerous high profile and respected figures in the arts world have challenged BP sponsorship with letters in national papers and in interviews.
In reality, it is us – the taxpayer – that give more to these institutions than BP. Tate’s members alone give more to the gallery than they get through BP’s sponsorship. So while Peter Mather claims that BP’s sponsorship deals are “two-way, long-term relationships”, it is the public that has had the longer and more significant relationships with these cultural institutions so it’s time we reclaimed them from BP.
Colombian trade unionist suing BP over kidnap and torture brings his fight for justice to…the British Museum.
Today, we were honoured to perform alongside Colombian trade unionist Gilberto Torres in our latest unsanctioned performance protest in the British Museum. Together, we challenged the Museum’s sponsor, BP, over its history of environmental destruction and human rights abuses in Colombia.
Gilberto Torres speaks in the BP-sponsored British Museum. Photo by Kristian Buus.
Our action today aimed to bring Gilberto’s story to one of the places where BP do not want it to be heard: the British Museum. BP sponsors the Museum in order to present a false face to the world, to pose as a responsible “corporate citizen” and distract the public from its real activities. It was time, once again, to reveal the true nature of this criminal company to visitors at the Museum.
One of the “Truth Translators” listens carefully to BP’s spin. Photo by Kristian Buus.
Our pop-up performance – featuring two vaudevillian ‘truth translators’ who translated the greenwash spouted by a sleazy BP character – drew a crowd in the Great Court. Then Gilberto himself stepped forward to tell his extraordinary story. Here are some excerpts of what he said:
“Today I am here, at the British Museum in London, because there is an oil company that is sponsoring this museum, and this company was involved in my 42-day-long kidnapping. This company is BP.
“When I was kidnapped I knew what was going to happen to me. I knew I was going to be murdered and left by the side of some road. But thanks to people’s solidarity, both national and international, to an oil workers’ 24-day-long strike, and to demonstrations by communities in Colombia and human rights organisations, it was possible for me not to be executed. Instead, I was held for longer, then finally released.
“I believe that British justice will rule in my favour. Not only in favour of Gilberto Torres, but also in favour of justice, in favour of this not happening again. And, as a person who has been kidnapped, who has suffered and been on the edge of death, I am here to tell the public in London, and those who make the laws, to please legislate, pass a law that prosecutes the violations to human rights committed by corporations from this country, in this case BP.
According to Sue Willman, a lawyer from Deighton Pierce Glynn, the law firm representing Gilberto:
“Gilberto Torres is risking his safety by suing oil companies in UK and by coming here to tell his story. He and his community face huge barriers in accessing justice. We hope his courage and the Oiljustice initiative will be a small step in breaking down those barriers, and changing the behaviour of corporations. We want to see BP held to account for its role in human rights violations, and we want justice to be done not just for Gilberto but for thousands of others.”
Paula Serafini of ‘BP or not BP?’, who also took part in today’s performance, said: “BP is responsible for horrific human rights abuses in Colombia. It is also driving runaway climate change, lobbying against low-carbon alternatives, and destroying ecosystems and livelihoods around the world. The British Museum must stop legitimising this criminal company by allowing it to sponsor major exhibitions.”
You can read a personal account from one of the performers here.
Gilberto Torres addresses a crowd in the BP-sponsored British Museum. Photo by Kristian Buus.
The Oil Justice campaign is a collaboration between War on Want, law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn and the Colombian NGO COSPACC, and we were very happy for the chance to support them today. You can see Gilberto speak as part of the Oil Justice tour at the following times and dates:
12 October: Unite House, 128 Theobalds Road, Holborn, London, WC1X 8TN. 6pm – 9pm
14 October: Jubilee Lecture Theatre, University of Sussex, Brighton, 5:00 – 7:00pm
15 October: Okinaga Room, Wadham College, Oxford University, Oxford, 7:30pm
16 October: Peel Lecture Theatre, Department of Geographical Sciences, University Road, Bristol, BS8 1SS, 6:30 – 8:30pm
17 October: Temple of Peace, Kind Edward VII Avenue, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3AP, 6pm
19 October: Northumbria University, City Campus East 003, Newcastle. 6 – 7:30pm
20 October: City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, 25 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9BX, 7:15 for 7:30pm
21 October: Department of Criminology, Cambridge University, 5 – 7pm
22 October: Drama Studio, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London, WC1H 0AL, 6pm – 8.30pm
23 October: Garden Court Chambers, 57-60 Lincolns Inn Field, WC2A 3LJ. Fundraising event with drinks reception and Sri lankan dinner. 6.30pm
Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Actions performs her poem inside the BP-sponsored British Museum as part of the Art Not Oil protest festival. Photo by Natasha Quarmby/Fields of Light Photography
We’re delighted to be able to publish the full text of the poem here, followed by Ruth’s speech to the crowd, explaining the link between fossil fuel companies like BP and fuel poverty.
So you see, Mrs Boyle why your bills are so high
It’s because of those greens and their pie in the sky
Yes, to save life on earth sounds like quite a reward
But frankly, my friend, we just cannot afford
To be worrying our heads about something so vague
You can’t ostracise oil like some sort of plague
It’s your friend, Mrs Boyle, and moreover, you see,
It is helping you come to museums for free
It’s a friend of the arts, it’s a friend of the poor –
Hang on, what’s that you say?
You can’t take any more?
You don’t want our sponsorship?
You don’t like fracking
You don’t want the pollution
Your neighbours are tracking
The lorries round country roads
Claiming our work corrodes
Everything precious in
Come, you know how it feels to be shivering with cold
And you know you can die of the cold when you’re old
Or disabled or ill or a baby, and others
Just go without food like the thousands of mothers
Who can’t feed both their kids and the meter, so say
They’ll give up their own meals just in order to pay
A high bill –
What? What’s that? Well, yes,
There are a few things we cannot deny
The cost to the earth and the cost to the sky
And the water – and, yes, there are costs to you too
Cos that cheap fossil fuel story isn’t quite true.
There’s a price war right now between Opec and shale
and the forecourt shows how this big industry’s able
to duck and to dive with the price at the pump
and how prices can drop in the face of a slump
but no, this does not alter the overall trend,
does not change what these fossils will cost in the end
They’re diminishing, see, and the deeper we drill
And the further we go, the more species we kill
Well, it does get expensive . . .
And yes, we admit
That we need all the help we can get for new kit
While the cost of renewables is steadily dropping
And would plummet still faster if the state were not topping
Up all our investments and going to war
For our fossil fuel interests and furthermore
Were not setting a strike price for power that’s double
What it would be if they were not taking the trouble
To keep Britain proud as a nuclear state.
We can raise our heads high
If our bills are high too
Well, I think that’s a price well worth paying,
This room is devoted to living and dying
and oil’s promoted by pay-offs and lying.
Yes of course our insurers do tot up the deaths
that are likely from oil spills and from
suicides as debts
and fuel poverty kill –
well, we do need the truth
just in case there’s a bill
like for Deep Sea Horizon
or somebody claims
for their miserable life in the cold
or the blame
most unreasonabully is placed on our should-
ers for plowing ahead when we’ve clearly been told
that the planet can’t take further carbon – but hey!
we’re just doing our jobs and
we’re doing just fine and
we’re legally wed to the firm’s bottom line
It’s the shareholders, see, and our duty to them.
So you see, Mrs Boyle that living and dying
are tied up with oil and our sponsorship here
is fully appropriate —
What’s that again?
You’ll have wind, you’ll have solar
the waves, and the tides,
and it’s not just the polar bears
see through our lies?
We’re not cheap?
We’re not friends?
Of the arts, OR the poor?
We’re just leaving
Now, where was that door?
Not to be overly dramatic or anything, I wanted to point out, in the shadow of this exhibition on living and dying, that fossil fuels are actually dead life, they are ancient life forms that have been stewing underground for eons and are now being dug up or drilled out to suffocate the life that’s on earth now. And we’re being told that this dracula movie scenario is actually the only choice we have.
We’re being told we have to choose between renewable energy that will preserve the climate, and fossil fuels that are supposedly cheap.
If that were true, if that were a real choice, we would really be in trouble.
We are likely to find out this November that 15,000 died from cold homes last year
in the UK, in one of the richest countries in the world — in fact, I want to invite you to come and join Fuel Poverty Action to protest about that!
So if we really had to choose between accepting that slaughter on the one hand
and on the other hand, climate chaos that is already leading to millions of deaths,
we would be in a very tragic place.
Luckily for the human race, it is NOT renewable energy that ‘s causing high bills.
It’s three things:
1. Profiteering by the privatised, unaccountable energy companies (like BP with their $12 billion profit last year)
2. The refusal to invest in renewable energy that, once the investment is made, keeps on giving, year after year, at very little cost – nothing compared to the huge sums required to access oil and other fossil fuels, or the humungous costs of nuclear power. People are not aware that we’re actually being asked to pay for nuclear weapons through our electricity bills. The costs of nuclear energy – even without cleaning up the waste – are so high that the government has had to promise EDF it will double the price of electricity to reward them for the cost of a new power plant at Hinkley so they can keep Britain a member of the nuclear club.
3. The UK has some of the draughtiest, dampest, worst insulated housing in Europe;
and the government has cut all the schemes that were doing something about this.
When Drax power station was planned, campaigners calculated that the money needed to build it could insulate all the homes in East Anglia, and save all the power that Drax would produce. No carbon, no radiation, no pensioners dying of cold, no extra cost — but no profit. And guess what, Drax was built and is still being subsidised with public money, just as oil, coal and gas are subsidised internationally to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
So we’re not only here because fossil fuels cause deaths from pollution and from climate change, we’re also here because they cause deaths and untold misery from the cost of heating our homes.
We’re here with an exhibition on living and dying — let’s choose living, not dying, and shut out BP!
Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Actions performs her poem inside the BP-sponsored British Museum as part of the Art Not Oil protest festival. Photo by Natasha Quarmby/Fields of Light Photography
Today, Hartwig Fischer was announced as the new Director of the British Museum. We would like to welcome the German art historian into his new post by challenging him to end the museum’s relationship with odious sponsor BP. Here’s our response to his appointment, which we have sent out to the media:
‘Hartwig Fischer faces a big test in his first few months: the decision whether to renew the museum’s five-year sponsorship deal with its most controversial backer, BP. Will he demonstrate that the museum is forward-thinking, environmentally-responsible and ethically-driven? Or will he shackle it to another five years of promoting this corporate criminal’s sullied brand? In the run-up to the Paris climate talks, more and more institutions are severing their ties with fossil fuel companies. The British Museum will look embarrassingly out of step if it is still clinging to BP well into the next decade, And we will not stop our creative civil disobedience until the museum recognises it’s time to drop BP.’
Our protests will continue to escalate until the British Museum drops BP! – photo by Natasha Quarmby.
Last night, musicians and campaigners held a triple protest against BP’s sponsorship of the Royal Opera House. As audience members arrived for a BP-sponsored performance of the ballet, Romeo and Juliet, a group of musicians launched into an unsanctioned musical protest in the opera house’s foyer, despite security’s attempts to remove them. A short time later, during the interval, another group unfurled two banners from a balcony next to the opera house’s stage before being escorted out by security staff. Their banners read “End Oil Sponsorship” and “BP – World’s Biggest Corporate Criminal”. Meanwhile, environmental campaigners in Bristol took on a BP-sponsored screening of the ballet which was taking place in the city centre, with an original theatrical protest.
Photo: Anthony Perrett.
Miranda Shaw, a violinist who took part in the musical protest, said:
“By accepting BP’s money, the Royal Opera House is giving BP a legitimacy that it does not deserve. We used music to commemorate, to creatively challenge this ill-advised partnership and also to expose BP’s injustices around the world. Our performance stands in stark contrast to the way BP uses the arts – as a tool to deceive, to cleanse its tarnished brand and buy favour from political leaders.”
Photo by Elizabeth Hughes
The musicians gave a performance of a newly composed piece, entitled “Meditation for a BP spill”. They musical score instructs performers to play a single musical chord 87 times, “once for each day that oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico”, and they should create the sound of the “submerged seismic booms that BP uses to search for oil in even deeper waters in the Great Australian Bight.” A copy of the original score is included at the end of this post.
Meanwhile, a team of performers gatecrashed the live screening of the ballet in Millenium Square in Bristol, and staged a play of their own in front of the crowd, just before the start of the screening. Taking their theme from the ballet itself, the performance featured Juliet imploring Romeo to abandon his relationship with BP:
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy sponsor and redeem thy name…
Yet still they retain the putrefaction of their misdeeds.
This oily devil plays a mummer’s game- pretending ‘goodness’ and ‘sustainability’
Yet their villainy is known throughout the land.”
The full script can be seen below.
All three of this season’s BP-sponsored performances at the Royal Opera House have now attracted protest. In July, 75 composers, musicians and music academics called on the Royal Opera House to end its partnership with BP in a letter to The Guardian and in June, two young composers held a musical protest in the opera house’s auditorium while another anti-BP action was staged at the “BP Big Screen” in Trafalgar Square.
Photo by Anthony Perrett
Last night’s protests are part of a growing wave of action against BP sponsorship of arts and cultural institutions. Earlier this month, 250 people occupied the British Museum in a mass creative protest against oil sponsorship, incorporating multiple performances from fifteen different groups. Additional actions also took place at the BP-sponsored National Portrait Gallery, by “Children Against Global Warming”, and at Tate Britain, by the performance art collective, “Liberate Tate”.
Chris Garrard, a campaigner with the group “BP or not BP?”, who took part in last night’s Royal Opera House protest, said:
“BP has a business plan that will push us into runaway climate change and its attempts to derail crucial climate legislation are well documented. But BP has also supported repressive regimes in West Papua, Colombia and Azerbaijan and it should therefore have no place in our cultural institutions when these are spaces where freedom of expression is celebrated.”
Photo by Elizabeth Hughes
BP paid the largest criminal fine in US history of $4.5 billion after admitting guilt to fourteen charges over its Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP also admitted to having lied to US Congress during the disaster. BP has recently been criticised for its close relationship with the Aliyev regime in Azerbaijan, a regime with a record of human rights abuses and which currently has over 100 political prisoners.
The Royal Opera House is one of four major cultural institutions sponsored by BP as part of a five-year deal, along with the British Museum, the Tate galleries and the National Portrait Gallery. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the British Museum and the Tate have recently been forced to reveal that BP’s donations make up less than 1% of their overall income – an “embarrassingly small” amount campaigners say.
Score devised by Chris Garrard
Script from the performance at the Bristol #BPBigScreen :
Introduction (by Romeo):
Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. There will now be a 2 minute performance about BP’s sponsorship of the arts.
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east and Juliet is the sun!
O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy sponsor and redeem thy name:
Or if thou wilt not, then forswear my love,
For I can no longer stand silent.
I ask- what’s in a word? The burning tar-sands by another name would smell as rank.
Doest thou call BP a kind and merry patron of the arts…?
(BP comes frolicking on all in green and yellow, smiling beatifically and sniffing a bunch of yellow flowers)
Yet still they retain the putrefaction of their misdeeds.
This oily devil plays a mummer’s game- pretending ‘goodness’ and ‘sustainability’
Yet their villainy is known throughout the land
For they are this world’s largest corporate criminal.
(She points at BP accusingly. BP starts to smear oil over their face and arms.)
While poison waves still lap the gulf of Mexico,
They wreak destruction on far Canadia’s fair shore, and seek even to despoil the high white Arctic,
In their search for yet more black gold.
Sweet muse of dance, ’tis but this tiny logo that is my enemy-
Why canst thou not take some other coin?
Be not BP’s maid, for they are devious;
Their vestal livery is but sick and green,
And none but fools do wear it.
(Romeo pushes BP out of the way and tears the logo from his chest. If there is time this can be expanded into a short sword fight. Both ways end with BP cowering on the floor.)
I pray, renounce this sponsorship, which should have no part of thee.
Juliet & Romeo together:
Out! Out damn logo! (Romeo tears the logo in half).
Performers join hands and bow, while 3 other players open 3 umbrellas that read ‘ART’ ‘NOT’ ‘OIL’
250 take over British Museum in “festival of protest” against BP sponsorship
Today, Art Not Oil was joined by hundreds of artists, campaigners and performers in our biggest protest yet against BP sponsorship of arts and culture. At the iconic British Museum, members of fifteen different groups held multiple creative actions and performances throughout the museum’s galleries, including pop-up theatre, live music, a powerful spoken word performance by a group of children, a Quaker Meeting for Worship, a bagpiper smeared with oil – and much more besides. It culminated in a mass piece of “flashmob theatre” in the museum’s Great Court, with the gathered performers spelling out the word ‘NO’ – to a new BP sponsorship deal – in huge letters, while carrying black umbrellas. You can read here how all the performances unfolded over the day.
Photo: Anna Branthwaite
There were also protest performances that took place in the Tate Britain, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Opera House. All four institutions are sponsored by BP and due to decide whether to renew their 5-year sponsorship deals with the oil giant over the next few months. We know that BP is driving runaway climate change, lobbying against low-carbon alternatives, and destroying ecosystems and livelihoods around the world. The British Museum and the others should not be legitimising this criminal company by allowing it to sponsor their exhibitions.
Photo: Field of Light Photography / Natasha Quarmby
Laurel (13), who is part of “Children Against Global Warming”, performed as part of a poignant spoken word piece with two of her friends, speaking about their concerns for their futures. They performed both at the National Portrait Gallery and beside the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum. She told us:
“I worry about the future and the impact climate change will have on my generation. BP want children like me who visit museums and art galleries to think they are responsible and care about our future. But I’ve seen the pictures of their oil spill and the Arctic melting and I know this isn’t true. I want to grow up in a world with a safe climate and without fossil fuels.”
Photo: Philip Grey
Many of the performances recalled BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010 and how the consequences of the spill continue today. Cherri Foytlin, a Gulf Coast resident affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, said:
“There is no art without life. BP has destroyed life here on the US Gulf Coast – both human and ecological. How would the museum feel if the most prized artefacts in its collection were smeared with oil, or if the people coming to visit were made sick? BP did that here. They are vandals of our beautiful world, and corporate serial-killers of life. It is our sincerest hope that one day these museums will value creation as much as a painting of creation, and expel BP from their donor list.”
BP was found to be “grossly negligent” in causing the Deepwater Horizon disaster and was recently fined $18.7 billion over the Gulf of Mexico spill, the largest environmental fine in history. Freedom of Information requests made by Art Not Oil’s members have revealed that BP provides just 0.8% of the British Museum’s annual income , and less than half a percent of the Tate’s.
Photo: Anna Branthwaite
Miranda Shaw, a campaigner with the Art Not Oil Coalition and member of BP or not BP?, said:
“This was our most ambitious intervention to date, and showed just how large the movement against oil sponsorship has become. As the British Museum, the Tate and others start debating whether to renew their five-year BP sponsorship deal our message to #dropBP could not be clearer. With so many other institutions cutting their ties to fossil fuels, museums and galleries must end their relationship with big oil or end up on the wrong side of history.”
Photo: Field of Light Photography / Natasha Quarmby
The groups that took part in Sunday’s festival at the British Museum (in order of performance) were:
Christian Climate Action, Codswallop Theatre Company, Platform, Azerbaijan Solidarity Campaign, Fuel Poverty Action, London Rising Tide, DANCE (Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement) South-West, Children Against Global Warming (who also performed at the National Portrait Gallery), Los Perros Romanticos, London Quakers, BP or not BP?, Fossil Free Kings College London, Divest London, Fossil Free Warwick and DANCE London/South-East and Liberate Tate (which also performed in all three other BP-sponsored institutions before coming to the museum).
Photo: Fields of Light Photography / Natasha Quarmby
This was the latest in a recent series of high-profile actions by the Art Not Oil coalition. They have included exposing Shell’s influence over the Science Museum’s climate exhibition; a double protest by BP or not BP? at the BP-sponsored Royal Opera House backed up by a critical letter in the Guardian signed by seventy-five composers, musicians and musicologists; ‘Time Piece’, Liberate Tate’s spectacular artistic 25-hour occupation of Tate Modern; and BP or not BP?’s performance protest against BP funding of the Edinburgh International Festival. Public figures including the acclaimed actors, Simon McBurney and Mark Rylance, and the playwrights Mark Ravenhill and Caryl Churchill, have regularly spoken out against BP sponsorship of the arts.
Photo: Fields of Light Photography / Natasha Quarmby
Join Art Not Oil for a “protest festival” at the British Museum on Sunday September 13th!
IMPORTANT FOR ANYONE PLANNING TO COME: Please email email@example.com so we can send you more details, and leave yourself lots of time to get into the Museum on the day as there may be long queues.
We’re inviting anyone that wants to stand up for human rights, habitat protection and a safer climate to join us for an anti-oil festival inside the BP-sponsored museum. We’ll have a series of stunts, performances and interventions going on throughout the day followed by a mass flashmob finale at 3pm! We already have sixteen different groups and hundreds of people signed up – but we need you too.
The groups and performers taking action as part of this event include Liberate Tate, BP or not BP?, Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement, Platform (in solidarity with Azerbaijani prisoners), Divest London, Stop the Arms Fair, London-based Quakers, Los Perros Romanticos, Fossil Free KCL, London Rising Tide, and others. It would be fantastic to have you there too. Please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you all the information you need to take part.
This is an important year in the fight against fossil fuels. In 2016, the sponsorship deal between BP and four iconic national institutions (the Tate, the British Museum, the Royal Opera House and the National Portrait Gallery) is due to expire. Whether or not those deals are renewed will depend on the amount of pressure that we pile on these institutions in 2015.
If we can get even one of these iconic cultural organisations to drop BP, it will be a significant victory in the battle to stigmatise, expose and reduce the power of the fossil fuel industry. That’s why the various groups in the Art Not Oil coalition (Liberate Tate, BP or not BP?, Shell Out Sounds, Platform, BP Out Of Opera, Rising Tide UK, Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement, UK Tar Sands Network and Science Unstained) have spent the last year intervening in these spaces with flashmobs, pop-up musicals, anti-oil dance routines, theatrical performances and interactive art installations. You can see some of what we’ve done at www.artnotoil.org.uk.
But it’s time to step things up.
This will be the Art Not Oil coalition’s biggest and most ambitious event yet, and we’d love to have you there on September 13th. Just email email@example.com to sign up (you can also join the Facebook event but you’ll need to sign up by email to get the most important information).
Please also share this message with everyone who might be interested, and invite them all to the Facebook event too!
Hoping to see you there,
Your friends in fossil-free futures,
BP or not BP? and the rest of the Art Not Oil Coalition
Acclaimed actor, Simon McBurney, Alison Johnstone MSP and Fringe First winner, Daniel Bye, join protests against BP sponsorship of Edinburgh International Festival
A group of 30 performers recreate BP oil spill and remove logos from Festival HQ
Today, Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) faced two performance protests targeting its controversial Festival Partner, BP. Acclaimed actor, Simon McBurney, who is getting five-star reviews for his EIF show ‘The Encounter’, joined the performers, along with Fringe First winner Daniel Bye and MSP Alison Johnstone. At the doors of the iconic Usher Hall building, one of the main EIF venues, the group of 30 recreated BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill with a theatre piece called ‘Gross Negligence’.
Outside Usher Hall – credit Andrew Perry
The group then moved into EIF HQ – “The Hub” – where they filled the corridor with song before ripping the BP logo out of their programmes and leaving them, free from oil sponsorship, in the building’s foyer. They then recreated the spill once more, just outside the front door. Many Festival-goers took flyers and some expressed their support.
‘This marks the beginning of the end of BP’s sponsorship of the Edinburgh International Festival. With leading artists speaking out against the sponsors of their own shows, the festival has to listen. If the festival is genuinely committed to sustainability, that has to apply to its sponsors too. BP is just one of many – there’s no reason why it can’t be replaced.’
Pointing at logo – credit Andrew Perry
Daniel Bye, whose show at Summerhall, Going Viral, has just won a Fringe First award, said:
“For me, art is a way of asking questions about this world and imagining a better one. It doesn’t help for the greatest arts festival in the world to be sponsored by an organisation actively committed to making the world worse.”
Ric Lander, Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:
“Scotland has world leading climate targets and a fast-growing renewable energy industry. Our universities and faith groups are ditching their ties with fossil fuels. Speaking to people at the festival today a lot of folk seem to agree that we should not let climate-wrecking companies like BP use Scotland’s treasured public arts to buy a veneer of respectability.”
Eleanor Dow, medical student and Edinburgh People & Planet campaigner, said:
The performers created an arresting and poignant image of the impacts of the Gulf of Mexico spill, from oil-covered birds and turtles to a cleanup worker suffering sickness from the effects of cleanup chemicals and toxins. During the performance, 11 white roses were laid at the front of the fabric spill, commemorating the 11 rig workers who lost their lives when the Deepwater Horizon rig first exploded. Interspersed through a sung refrain of the words ‘Gross negligence/caused the spill from BP/Gross deception/time to set the festival free’ a poem was spoken, bringing to life the impacts of BP’s operations on wildlife, workers and the climate. The music rose to an energetic chorus at the end of ‘BP must go!’
Arms raised – credit Andrew Perry
BP has sponsored the EIF for 34 years. The oil giant’s sponsorship of other high-profile arts organisations, including the British Museum and Tate, has been a target for a growing number of creative and disruptive protests in recent months. Campaigners and artists are concerned that cultural institutions are giving BP legitimacy while the company continues to extract unsustainable levels of fossil fuels, including the most highly-destructive such as tar sands, fracking, deepwater and Arctic drilling. Meanwhile, BP uses its influence to lobby against effective climate action.
BP recently officially became the world’s biggest corporate criminal, following a record-breaking $4.5 billion legal payout in 2012 and a further $18.7 billion fine last month, for its role in the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon disaster. BP also has close relationships with repressive regimes such as Azerbaijan, Russia and Indonesia (West Papua), and is being sued for complicity in human rights abuses in Colombia.
Tearing out logo – credit Andrew Perry
BP or not BP? is part of the Art Not Oil coalition, and all the groups involved are part of the growing international campaign for fossil fuel divestment. There is a Facebook event for participants to register their interest.
Caused the spill from BP
Time to set the festival free
Sung underneath each verse;
BP BP BP must go
BP BP BP must go
“Gross negligence” the Judge decreed
The harshest judgement he could hand down
BP is guilty – it caused the disaster
But what does “gross negligence” mean?
It means, for the workers, unending trauma.
Deepwater Horizon engulfed in flames
11 men dead, the rig sunk forever,
Oil gushing for 87 days.
It means, for the birds, choking and sinking
Preening to get clean, swallowing oil
Globulent, poisonous, deeply traumatic
Wings rendered useless and soiled.
It means, for the turtles, disorientation:
Home has become an inky-black soup
They must lay their eggs on oily-black beaches
The babies hatch straight into crude.
It means, for the fishers, the end of the world:
Poisonous oysters really don’t sell
Boats lie abandoned, fishing nets moulder
Depression, poverty, hell
It means, for the cleanup crew, crippling sickness
Toxic dispersants and no safety gear.
Tumours and migraines, terrible lesions
Memory loss, lung disease, fear
It means, for the rest of us, more global warming
As BP sucks every last drop of oil dry
Unmoved by scientists’ terrible warnings
Its plan is to let the world fry.
It means we must wipe BP off this planet
A fossil-free future can become true
It will happen when BP is shunned by its champions
The Museums Association has been revising its Code of Ethics, and the new draft code is currently open for consultation until 7 August. The Code is very important because it sets the standard for the sector.
Together with the Art Not Oil coalition we have produced a short briefing on how it could be stronger on the issues of sponsorship and the environment. Please take a few minutes to read the briefing and then send the Museums Association your comments.
Holmes and Watson search for BP, the world’s biggest corporate criminal, in the British Museum. Photo by Kristian Buus.
• Rebel theatre group BP or not BP? blocks entrance to Museum exhibition with surprise performance, set to continue all afternoon
• Thirty-five performers bring oil spill and critical Aboriginal voices to BP-sponsored “Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation” exhibition
• Freedom of Information request reveals that Aboriginal communities were not consulted about BP sponsorship of their artefacts
Today at 2.30pm, the theatrical action group BP or not BP? began a protest performance inside the British Museum. The unsanctioned performance – which is still ongoing – has blocked the main entrance to the Museum’s controversial “Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation” exhibition, which is sponsored by BP.
Oh no! Our BP drilling rig suddenly exploded, causing a huge oil spill all over the Museum’s floor. Photo by Hugh Warwick.
The “actor-vists” are using a mixture of theatre and storytelling to hold the space, and have drawn a hundreds-strong crowd. Visitors are being invited to join the performance, which the campaigners plan to continue for the rest of the day despite warnings from Museum security.
The British Museum was in thrall to BP, who made sure she was distracted from all the problems with the exhibition and its sponsor. Photo by Hugh Warwick.
The performance accuses the British Museum of “not listening” to criticism of the exhibition, which has focused both on the choice of sponsor and the inclusion of objects stolen from Aboriginal communities. A new Freedom of Information request by BP or not BP?  has revealed that the majority of the communities whose objects are featured in the exhibition were not informed that BP would be the sponsor. Despite claiming to have carried out consultation with all the Aboriginal groups involved, only the two whose artefacts feature on the exhibition posters were told that their objects would be displayed alongside the logo of the controversial oil company.
Today’s action is the latest in a series of creative protests accusing the British Museum of giving BP legitimacy while the company continues to extract fossil fuels and lobby against climate action. The five-year sponsorship deal is up for renewal early next year. In April, the UK-based group disrupted the press launch of the Indigenous Australia exhibition with a protest against ‘Stolen Land, Stolen Culture, Stolen Climate’, the photos and film of which went viral in Australia.
Museum-goers joined us in writing messages of solidarity on our banner which we will send to Indigenous communities when they protest the arrival of the exhibition in Australia. Photo by Chris Garrard.
The performance involves a “British Museum management” character sitting on a chair outside the Indigenous Australia exhibition, studiously ignoring the following series of dramatic events:
– a noisy oil disaster that covers the area in fabric and paper “oil”
– a British colonial explorer accused of stealing land and cultural artefacts from the Aboriginal peoples of Australia
– a crowd of dying animals and birds
– a climate scientist explaining the role played by fossil fuel companies in pushing the world into climate disaster
– Quotes read out from Aboriginal communities, criticising the exhibition and the choice of BP as a sponsor
The “British Museum” is attended at all times by a sinister BP character, who keeps the Museum distracted from the chaos unfolding around them with the use of BP-branded dark glasses and ear muffs, as well as handfuls of dirty cash and a cup of suspiciously black and oily tea .
You can’t clean up an oil spill – long-term damage to wildlife and the ecosystem is inevitable. Photo by Hugh Warwick.
Following this initial performance, the group have now occupied a large area at the base of the steps leading up to the BP exhibition, and are inviting the crowd to join them as they tell stories about climate change, oil companies, and colonialism in an attempt to catch the attention of the “British Museum” character. This part of the performance is still ongoing, and the performers are also distributing British Museum feedback forms to the crowd and asking them to fill them in to let the Museum know their thoughts on the sponsorship deal and the exhibition.
Tony Birch, an Aboriginal author and academic, said:
‘The involvement of organisations such as BP in the sponsorship of Indigenous arts, history and culture is disturbing. It is also hypocritical. Our lands and cultures are under threat from multinational organisations, determined to extract selfish wealth from the earth, regardless of the environmental, emotional and cultural damage caused. BP has an appalling record of environmental degradation. If it was genuinely concerned with the welfare, sovereignty and intellectual knowledge of Indigenous nations, at a global level, it would cease its insatiable thirst for extracting fossil fuels from the ground and poisoning our air with them.’
Jess Worth from BP or not BP? said:
‘It’s hard to imagine a more inappropriate and insensitive sponsor for this exhibition than BP. The company is driving the very climate change that is threatening Indigenous communities around the world, while pushing to drill four offshore wells in Australia, deeper than Deepwater Horizon. It’s perhaps no coincidence that there is no mention of climate change in this BP-sponsored exhibition. The Museum trustees should do the ethical thing and end this dirty deal.’
The museum totally ignored warnings from the climate scientist – she was too busy being showered with money by BP! Photo by Hugh Warwick.
This is BP or not BP?’s 13th creative protest inside the British Museum. The protest is an expression of solidarity with Aboriginal communities who are still struggling for the right to live on their traditional lands since the British first invaded Australia and stole their land. Australia is currently witnessing the growth of #SOSblakaustralia, a mass protest movement challenging a decision by the regional government to forcibly close 150 “homelands” in Western Australia – remote communities where Indigenous peoples live on and look after their traditional lands .
1. According to the FOI request: “The British Museum consulted with the communities in the two cases where objects related to those communities were to be used on posters and advertising where sponsorship crediting was included. Both communities were advised of the sponsor and gave permission for the images of objects to be used. The sponsorship arrangements were not discussed with other communities. The sponsorship was made public on 22 January 2015; consultation with the communities had been completed at this point as there are lengthy lead-in times for exhibition development.” The documents can be seen here.
2. BP currently plans to drill four new wells in the Great Australian Bight, an area off the south coast of Australia. These waters are far rougher, and far more remote than the Gulf of Mexico. That disaster was in 1.5km of water. In the Great Australian Bight BP could be drilling in waters far deeper, which are also a whale nursery and sanctuary recognised internationally for southern right whales and their calves, blue and humpback whales and Australian sea lions. BP has already admitted that the best case well blowout spill scenario would result in pollution potentially stretching for 760km.
[To be performed close to the steps leading up to the Indigenous Australia exhibition.]
A character representing the British Museum arrives with a folding chair and a box under their arm. They are dressed smartly and blandly in a suit, with a big badge saying ‘British Museum management’ on it. They sit on the chair and put the box on the floor in front of them. It says ‘British Museum feedback’ and has a slot in the top for forms. They remain sitting there for a little while, smiling and waving to passers-by.
Suddenly the low sound of drilling can be heard, near the base of the stairs, made by multiple voices. The noise gets louder and more violent, as a figure appears, wearing an oil-spattered hazard suit, drilling into the museum’s marble floor with a fake drill. Suddenly some of the voices make a cracking, splintering sound. Black cracks appear on the museum floor, made of fabric rolled out by more oil workers in hazard suits. A fabric spill appears at the centre of the crack and someone throws hundreds of black paper ‘oil-blots’ from halfway up the stairs, giving the whole area an oil-spattered look. Throughout the rest of the performance the oil workers add to and maintain the spill so that it gradually grows.
The oil worker reels back, appalled at the mess they’ve made. There’s oil everywhere. Devastated by the mess they’ve made, they approach the museum representative, blackened arms outstretched.
Oil Worker: ‘Excuse me, British Museum, but look at the horrible mess BP has made. There’s been a huge spill, and it’s polluting the entire Gulf Coast ecosystem. It can’t be cleaned up. This is the reality of BP’s operations- I’ve seen it first hand. Now they want to do the same thing with four new offshore oil wells in Australia. Why are you promoting them in your museum?’
At first, the BM character shows interest, but as the oil worker is speaking, a creepy BP character appears, sidling across to the BM and putting sunglasses on them, with BP logos on the lenses. From then on, the BM character ignores the Oil Worker, sometimes staring straight ahead, sometimes purposely flinching away when they get up close and show their hands. This continues for a while until:
Oil worker: Why aren’t you listening to me? Why are you ignoring the evidence? I give up!
He storms off.
Then from another side, a colonial explorer in khaki shorts, shirt and pith helmet appears with a huge sack with the word ‘ artefacts’ on the side, and a copy of the exhibition book. He arrives to a fanfare of ‘God Save The Queen’ recreated by the choir. He is sinister, not jovial, and is here to do business.
Explorer: Ah, hello museum! I’ve just got back from Australia. It’s a wonderful, rich land, but annoyingly there were people there. Don’t worry though – we’ve decided to officially classify them as flora and fauna! So now we can call it an uninhabited wasteland and take whatever we like, for Queen and country. We can take the land, the natural resources [friendly nod to BP], and also some fascinating artefacts for your collection. Look here [he sets the bag down at the Museum’s feet and opens the book on their lap.] I’ve got some exquisite carved barks, a fabulous boomerang – deadly in the right hands! A lovely woven basket, wait till you see the vibrant colours! They’ll look much better in a display case rather than getting dirty in the bush. Oh, and there’s a rather interesting shield, it has two bullet holes in it. Don’t you worry about why. [As the Explorer is speaking the Museum is listening with great interest and nodding enthusiastically as they are shown through the book.]
Audience Member: Hang on a minute. All this stuff isn’t yours to give away! Australia wasn’t empty when Britain invaded – it was a continent of over 600 countries, each with their own culture and language. These are some of the longest established civilisations in the world – and you treated them horrifically, massacred them, hunted them for sport, stole their land, stole their children. Today they are still fighting for the survival of their people. [British Museum is ignoring all this, while the explorer harrumphs and looks annoyed]
And you, British Museum – you’re happy to benefit from this? This exhibition contains just 1% of the stolen Aboriginal objects you keep locked away, refusing to return them to the communities that want them back. Your exhibition rewrites history, calls colonialism a “misunderstanding”, misses out key moments in the Aboriginal black activist movement – and you didn’t even tell the communities whose objects you’re displaying that an oil company would be sponsoring the exhibition.
This is a shameful part of our history that we need to face up to and make amends. Where are your ethics, British Museum? Why aren’t you listening to me?!
The Explorer and the Audience Member leave, still bickering. The book and bag stay at the BM’s feet. The British Museum looks slightly perturbed, but is soon relaxed by being given a cup of tea by BP, who pours a black oily liquid into it from a petrol can, which the BM drinks, allowing the oil to trickle down their chin onto their nice white shirt. It looks gross.
Suddenly, from near the oil spill, animal noises begin, quietly at first, then getting louder. They are mainly whale, dolphin and bird sounds, and as the noises rise, several Creatures appear at the spill site, dressed all in black wearing animal and bird masks. First they swoop around and then they get sullied and stuck in the oil. They gradually drag themselves to the feet of the BM character, squawking and flapping to get their attention. But BP has got there first. The BP character first places BP-branded earmuffs over the BM’s ears so they can’t hear the noise, then proceeds to shoo the dying creatures away from the museum and back to the oil spill where they’re covered with black cloth so they’re almost out of sight [at this point the actors remove the heads and leave them in the spill].
Then a Climate Scientist appears. She starts talking to the BM as if she’s giving a lecture, but gradually gets more emotional, personal and angry.
Climate Scientist: The global scientific consensus is clear – dangerous climate change is happening, it is being caused by burning fossil fuels, and if we do not transition away from coal, oil and gas very rapidly then the consequences for the planet will be very significant. We are talking about dramatic changes to temperatures, weather patterns, sea-levels, water supplies and ecosystems that will cause immense human suffering. Yet companies like BP are using their political influence and their immense wealth to prevent climate action so they can continue extracting every last drop of oil. They have a business plan for the end of the world and they need to be stopped. So why on earth, British Museum, are you allowing them to put their logos all over your prestigious exhibitions? You are giving them a legitimacy that they do not deserve, and as a result, actively preventing effective action on climate change. Why are you ignoring the world’s scientists? You’re supposed to be an institution that keeps to the highest standards of academic rigour! This is ridiculous!
Unfortunately, the BM isn’t listening because BP is standing on their other side, distracting them with a load of oil-stained banknotes which it is gradually stuffing into the BM’s top pocket, pleasing them both no end. The Climate Scientist slopes off, head in hands.
Then a few people step forward holding an Aboriginal flag. They read out statements from Aboriginal people critiquing the exhibition and its sponsor. The BM continues not to listen. Then the MC steps forward. They will control proceedings from now on.
Actorvist MC: The British Museum isn’t listening. It is ignoring the fact that BP is the world’s biggest corporate criminal. It is ignoring the Aboriginal communities who want their stolen objects back. It is ignoring the reality of climate change, and the need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. We need to make the British Museum listen. Join us today, while we tell stories about why we are so worried about BP sponsorship, and if you share our concerns, fill in one of these feedback forms, post it in the box [still at the BM’s feet] and we will deliver them to the Museum.