British Museum director given a BP-themed send off in museum’s Great Court

 

 

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Photo: Peter Marshall (c)

A week after Paris deal, activists expose “cosy relationship” between BP and British Museum in protest performance. For more information, email info@bp-or-not-bp.org

On Sunday 20th December at 3pm, 25 of our “actor-vists”, dressed as BP executives, hosted a spoof farewell party inside the British Museum’s Great Court, marking the departure of the museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, and we hope, the end of his “cosy relationship” with the museum’s sponsor, BP. Earlier this year, we obtained emails under the Freedom of Information Act revealing close relationships between BP staff and the museum’s outgoing director, and the British Museum will soon decide whether to renew its 5-year sponsorship deal with the oil giant. Our protest performance came just a week after 10 performers were arrested at the Musee du Louvre during the Paris climate talks, when they challenged the museum’s sponsorship by the oil companies, Total and Eni.

Rhiannon Kelly, one of the “actor-vists” who took part in Sunday’s performance, said:

The Paris climate deal has made the direction of travel clear – we must shift to a fossil free culture. So, when the British Museum decides whether or not to renew its sponsorship deal with BP, it must be ethics and the future of the planet that determines the outcome – not personal relationships. Rather than just preserving cultural artefacts, the British Museum should be in solidarity with the communities and cultures around the world that are already facing the impacts of climate change.

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Photo: Peter Marshall (c)

Our protest performance began when a group posing as jubilant “BP executives” arrived in the Great Court, singing a rewritten version of Robbie Williams’s classic song, ‘Angels’:

Through all the oil spills / And even our court cases / Neil [MacGregor] wouldn’t forsake us / Art sponsorship will save us / We’re loving culture instead.

A performer, playing the part of the departing museum director, joined the cast and was then showered with oily “champagne”, fed chunks of a cream cake in the shape of the world, and scattered with dirty money. The performance highlighted the hypocrisy of the most recent BP-sponsored exhibitions and events at the museum, including Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation and the Mexican Day of the Dead festival, both of which have encountered protests made in solidarity with Aboriginal and Mexican activists respectively. The “BP executives” also made light of the title of the next BP-sponsored exhibition, the ironically named Sunken Cities. You can read the full script of the performance at the end of this blog.

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Photo: Peter Marshall (c)

Following a Freedom of Information request made earlier this year, we received 19 pages of emails between BP and the museum’s outgoing director, from January 2014 to January 2015. Among opera and dinner invitations is an email sent by Neil MacGregor to a departing member of BP staff – on New Year’s Eve 2014 at 6:39pm! It included the following lines:

I am very sad that you are leaving BP and we will no longer be working together…

I have very much enjoyed every aspect of our cooperation, and have always known that we were working towards the same end…

BP is one of the world’s biggest corporate criminals, receiving the largest corporate criminal fine in history of $18.7 billion for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The civil case against BP reached its conclusion earlier this year but new suits have been filed against BP for the damage the spill caused to the Mexican coastline.

Our protest performance came just a week after 10 arts activists were arrested in the Musee du Louvre in Paris while creatively protesting the museum’s sponsorship deals with the oil companies, Total and Eni. Meanwhile, hundreds of climate campaigners had gathered outside the museum’s iconic glass pyramid, revealing umbrellas displaying the words ‘Fossil Free Culture’. It marked the coming together of a movement of artists and activists working to liberate museums and galleries from unethical corporate influence. Earlier this year, 36 leading climate scientists wrote an open letter to American museums and galleries, urging them to break their ties with the fossil fuel industry and the momentum for a fossil free culture continues to build.

Climate campaigners outside the Musee du Louvre.  Photo: Kristian Buus (c)
Climate campaigners outside the Musee du Louvre.
Photo: Kristian Buus (c)

 

The Script 

3 BP executives stumble onto the stage, they have been drinking and start singing as if they have just come back from a bad karaoke night. To the tune of Robbie Williams’s ‘Angels’:


All:

So when we’re lying in our beds

Thoughts running through our heads

And we feel that oil is dead…

We’re loving culture instead.

 

And through it all, Neil offered us cheap branding

And a social license

To operate…

Through all the oil spills

And even our court cases

Neil wouldn’t forsake us

Art sponsorship will save us

We’re loving culture instead.

 

BP execs cheer, laugh, clink glasses, clap, etc. Enter Neil MacGregor.

 

Exec 1:            What a wonderful evening. Oh, Neil MacGregor we were just saying how absolutely devastated we are that you are leaving your post as Director of this museum.

 

MacGregor:   Oh, stop it. I am hugely grateful to everyone at BP for your longstanding and on-going commitment to the British Museu-

 

Exec 2:            No Neil, thank you. We are so grateful for your longstanding and on-going commitment to the fossil fuel industry. Without you allowing us to put our branding all over your posters and public events, we would not have the same level of public support in order to legitimise our operations.

 

Exec 3:            Exactly! As we want the public to think we care about art and culture! That we are as green and pleasant as our flowery logo and not hell-bent on destroying the climate at all. [Laughs]

 

All:                  Absolutely not… Here, here… Cheers to that! [Overlapping voices, all laugh, clink glasses etc]

 

Exec 1:            We even have a lecture theatre named after us!

 

Exec 2:            And our name engraved in the wall! Look!

 

MacGregor:   Don’t mention it. Anything for my dear, dear friends and colleagues at BP. It’s all been worth it for the champagne, days out to the opera, VIP previews and dinner parties…

 

Someone holds up sign saying ‘Genuine quote from Neil MacGregor to BP’

 

I have very much enjoyed every aspect of our co-operation, and have always known that we were working towards the same end –

 

All:                  [Aside] Global climate catastrophe?!

 

MacGregor:   – and working happily and humorously as well.

 

Exec 2:            Yes, yes.

 

Someone holds up a sign saying ‘GENUINE QUOTE FROM BP TO NEIL MACGREGOR’

 

You have always been great supporters of BP and of the work we have been leading. To be able to sit here with all of you, and address you as friends, is an absolute privilege.

 

Exec 1:            I mean, just look at our achievements. Over the years we’ve had our logo on the ‘Vikings: Life and Legend’ exhibition [presents poster] and hosted a wonderful dinner afterwards.

 

Exec 2:            Despite the fact that we ourselves are oily plunderers…

 

Everyone claps

 

Exec 1:            ‘Ming: 50 Years that changed China’. Look, how beautiful the logo looks right here [presents poster and gestures at logo]

 

Exec 3:            We were one of the first foreign companies to begin operating in China… And have just recently strengthened our ties with a $10 billion deal!

 

Everyone claps, cheers

 

Exec 1:            Then of course there was ‘Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation’ [presents poster]

 

Exec 2:            Despite the fact that we are destroying the land, lives and liveliehood of indigenous communities and are planning to drill four new wells in the Great Australian Bight, even deeper than the ones that destroyed the Gulf of Mexico!

 

Everyone claps, cheers, getting louder

 

Exec 3:            Speaking of Mexico, don’t forget the time we teamed up with the Mexican Government for the Day of the Dead event!

 

Exec 1:            That was a good one. We’re trying to build more wells there and all. Despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which has polluted Mexico’s waters and coastline, and for which we received the largest criminal fine in history! But get this… Guess what the name of our next exhibition is? Go on, guess!

 

All:                  SUNKEN CITIES! [All clap, cheer and collapse into laughter]

 

MacGregor:   [Laughs nervously] Well, I guess when you put it like that… [Has second thoughts about the relationship]

 

Exec 3:            No, no, no Mr. MacGregor. These are all brilliant achievements only made possible by our fruitful collaboration.

 

[GENUINE QUOTE SIGN] We are genuinely privileged to enjoy such a wonderful relationship with the British Museum.

 

Have some more champagne…

 

All:                  Yes, yes, more champagne MacGregor… Here, have some cake… [Execs presents cake with globe icing] Drink? Food? Whatever you want, MacGregor…

 

Overlapping voices, everyone starts drinking and eating orgiastically. Execs push the cake, drink and BP money to MacGregor, who is getting steadily more full and inebriated and eventually collapses into a chair, covered in oily gloop with the BP money scattered around him.

 

Exec 1:            That was a close one.

 

Exec 2:            [Smiles] As we were saying, we are hugely grateful for Neil’s longstanding and on-going commitment to the fossil fuel industry. Farewell, Neil. We will miss you very much.

 

Exec 3:            [Raises glass for a toast] To Neil!

 

All:                  Neil!

 

Exec 2:            What are we going to do without him?

 

Exec 3:            Well, a little bird told me that there’s going to be a new Director starting in the Spring.

 

Exec 2:            Oh yes! Hartwig Fischer isn’t it!?

 

Exec 1:            Yes! Oh, yes… Hartwig Fischer… [grins maniacally] We’ll befriend and bribe him soon enough. Oh, think of all the parties and events we’ll invite him to. We’ll take him to the opera! The Rigoletta!

 

All:                  [Overlapping voices, getting louder and more excited] We’ll host even more lavish dinner parties! … Business meetings! … Opening nights! … VIP Previews! … Exhibitions! … Screenings! … Drinks!

 

Exec 3:            [Raises glass] To Hartwig Fischer.

 

All:                  Hartwig Fischer!

 

Clutching their glasses and what remains of the cake, etc, the execs sway drunkenly and burst into song. Neil MacGregor is still slumped on the chair, occasionally joins in. To the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne’:

 

All:                  Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

But new ones we will find

 

For all the OIL and lies, my dears,

For all the OIL and lies,

We gave a tiny sum of cash

Meanwhile the planet fries

 

Director Neil, we dazzled him

With greenwash money and lies,

Extracting oil on any whim

Polluting seas and skies.

 

For all the OIL and lies, my dears,

For all the OIL and lies,

We gave a tiny sum of cash

To make our profits rise!

 

 

Our sponsorship you’ll not forget,

The BP logo stays,

We’ll do some offshore drilling yet

To pay our greasy ways!

 

For all the OIL and lies, my dears,

For all the OIL and lies,

We gave a tiny sum of cash

Meanwhile the planet dies!

 

 


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