BP or not BP activists protested at the first day of the annual Portrait Awards in Edinburgh today, demanding an end to BP’s sponsorship of the exhibition and the arts.
The group from BP or not BP Scotland, occupied the main chamber of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery singing ‘climate carols’ highlighting BP’s role in human rights abuses and driving climate change.
The group argue that arts institutions should not accept fossil fuel sponsorship, which allows companies to present a socially responsible face to the public while engaging in damaging extraction practices.
The action was part of a campaign to get BP dropped as a sponsor of the Portrait Awards and other arts institutions across the UK.
BP’s sponsorship of the National Portrait Gallery in London makes up less than 2% of its overall income but the Scottish National Portrait Gallery gets an even less good deal, with a tokenistic £5,000 coming from BP for a range of outreach events. In return, the oil giant’s logos appear on all displays and promotion relating to the exhibition, and the company is consulted on invitations to be sent for private screenings and press openings.
Tara Wight, who took part in the protest said:
“This week, as world leaders, including the Scottish and UK governments, are at the UN climate negotiations hearing about the devastating impacts climate change is already having across the world, our national art institutions are still shamelessly promoting one of the world’s biggest climate criminals. We hope our action today has sent a message to National Galleries Scotland and the National Portrait Gallery in London that we want oil out of our art.
We call on National Galleries Scotland to follow the example of the Edinburgh International Festival who dropped BP as a sponsor after protests by our group.”
Sarah Horne from BP or not BP? said:
“The tide is turning on fossil fuel funding of culture, but the National Portrait Gallery seems intent on promoting one of the world’s most polluting oil companies. In return for less than 2% of the gallery’s income, BP gets to boost its brand as the BP Portrait Award tours around the UK. But from the Van Gogh Museum cutting its ties to Shell to Neil Young ditching Barclaycard sponsorship, the arts are increasingly stepping up and saying no to fossil fuel money. We hope that next year the Scottish National Portrait Gallery will put people and the environment first, and refuse to host the exhibition until BP is dropped.”
The National Portrait Gallery in London has faced criticism for years for its continued refusal to drop BP as a sponsor of the annual portrait awards. Last year a formal complaint was submitted showing that BP’s sponsorship breaches the gallery’s own ethical fundraising policy, a complaint which has now been passed to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
National Galleries Scotland, which includes the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, does not have a written set of ethical standards for fundraising, but it does state that donations must not ‘damage the integrity or reputation of National Galleries of Scotland’. Activists today argue that supporting fossil-fuel sponsored exhibitions does just that.