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.
Meanwhile, the internet was buzzing with the news of a major victory for the anti-oil sponsorship movement: the Science Museum has dropped Shell.
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.