“Looting and pillaging” oil company pilloried in send-up of official trailer

Spoof film launched by hijacking Museum’s own #Vikingslive hashtag to coincide with “Vikings Live” screenings in cinemas around the country

BP Vikings – Pillaging the planet from rikki on Vimeo.

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Today, grassroots “actor-vist” group the Reclaim Shakespeare Company have launched a spoof film challenging BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum’s popular Vikings exhibition. The film is modelled closely on the British Museum’s official Vikings trailer. It takes an ironic swipe at the fact that an oil company accused of recklessly plundering natural resources is sponsoring an exhibition about some of history’s most famous looters and pillagers. The spoof film is being launched together with a petition calling for an end to the British Museum’s BP sponsorship deal, which is up for renewal in 2017.

The launch of the film and petition coincides with the British Museum’s Vikings Live event, a live broadcast of an exhibition walk-through and Viking battle re-enactments that is being screened at hundreds of cinemas across the UK later today. Opponents of the exhibition’s fossil fuel sponsorship will be hijacking the Museum’s dedicated #VikingsLive hashtag to promote the spoof film, and will be handing out anti-BP flyers at a number of the screenings.

The British Museum continues to defend its controversial sponsorship relationship with BP, despite the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster, the company’s decision to start extracting highly polluting and destructive tar sands oil in Canada, its enormous contribution towards climate change, and its recently-announced partnership with Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft in order to exploit the hazardous and vulnerable Arctic.

Campaigners point out that according to figures released by BP, the oil company provides less than 1% of the Museum’s annual income*, but receives a large amount of high-profile branding in return.

Pressure on cultural institutions to consider the ethics of their sponsorship deals is currently high. Earlier this month, the veteran human rights campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change”.  Following months of pressure, the Southbank Centre suddenly ended its long-running sponsorship deal with Shell earlier this year. Pressure is also growing on the Tate over its refusal to reveal details of its BP funding, despite being ordered to by the Information Commissioner. Campaigners from the Reclaim Shakespeare Company believe that their onstage protests contributed to the recent downgrading of BP’s sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Westley Ingram, who played a Viking in the film, said: “BP is officially the world’s biggest corporate criminal, following the Gulf of Mexico disaster. Its activities in the tar sands, the Arctic, and elsewhere are locking us into a future of disastrous runaway climate change. The British Museum should sever all ties with BP, because this sponsorship deal is giving the company a veneer of respectability that it does not deserve.”

Guy Martin, who also appeared in the film, said: “As the reality of climate change becomes ever clearer, the case for ending oil sponsorship of the arts is gathering momentum. Both the RSC and Southbank Centre seem have taken steps to no longer act as a figleaf to hide the destructive activities of oil companies such as BP and Shell. The British Museum, Tate Galleries, National Portrait Gallery, Science Museum and others must now do the right thing and follow suit. We need decent public funding for arts and culture that doesn’t allow unscrupulous companies like BP to buy themselves such a dangerous level of public credibility.”

The spoof film was made by Clear Blue Films and members of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company. The Reclaim Shakespeare Company and Shell Out Sounds is part of an umbrella group called the Art Not Oil Coalition, alongside other anti-oil sponsorship groups such as Liberate Tate, Platform, UK Tar Sands Network, Rising Tide UK and Science Unstained.

* The British Museum does not declare exactly how much money it receives from BP each year. However, BP have stated publicly that they gave £10 million, over 5 years, to four London institutions: Tate, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and the Royal Opera House. Even if half of this money was given to the British Museum, that would only amount to £1 million per year (plus an extra £35,000 that BP gives as one of the Museum’s “Global Partners”). The Museum’s annual income for 2011/12 was £106 million (according to their published accounts), so BP’s contribution represents less than 1% of the institution’s annual income.