Today, at 11.30am, we began a surprise musical protest outside Glasgow’s Theatre Royal to challenge BP’s sponsorship of the Scottish Ballet. Around 50 performers and supporters took part in an action led jointly by BP or not BP? and Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir.
The performers are calling on the Scottish Ballet to stop promoting BP, a company notorious for lobbying governments to slow down climate action. BP had multiple representatives at COP26 despite being officially barred from any formal role at the talks . The action comes on the final day of the UN climate summit in Glasgow, at the very moment that the fossil fuel industry – including BP – is under fire for blocking progress at the talks and helping to weaken the final agreement text.
Today’s action outside the Theatre Royal began with a “sermon” against BP sponsorship by New York performance activist and “Earth-preacher” Reverend Billy, backed up by songs from his Stop Shopping Choir. The choir and their supporters then lay on the ground, covering the pavement in front of the theatre. The finale of the performance featured a ballet dancer in a BP-branded tutu, gradually being persuaded – through dance and song – to remove the BP logo. The performers also attached a banner to the front of the theatre reading “Get oil out of the arts”.
The Scottish Ballet is one of the few performing arts companies in the UK that still partners with a fossil fuel company. In the last few years, the Edinburgh International Festival, Royal Shakespeare Company, Southbank Centre and National Theatre have all ended their sponsorship deals with BP or Shell.
BP presents itself as a “sustainability partner” of the Scottish ballet. According to the Ballet’s Annual Report, the oil giant is helping to “evaluate Scottish Ballet’s carbon footprint and…develop sustainable policies and working practices” as part of BP’s “ambitions for net zero”. Campaigners say this is a form of “greenwash”, as the Ballet is helping the oil company to present itself as a climate champion when in reality, BP is pushing ahead with major new oil and gas drilling plans from Australia to the Russian Arctic. These plans are in direct opposition to the International Energy Agency’s stark warning earlier this year that, for a chance of keeping warming at 1.5 degrees, the world can afford no new fossil fuel projects at all. BP’s supposed “net zero” plans have been assessed as full of loopholes and lacking serious credibility, so much so that BP has been refused any formal role in the COP26 talks – although the company has managed to get its representatives into the talks through other means.
The performance took place against the backdrop of a large police presence on the streets of Glasgow during the climate summit. Police officers accompanied by two police vans watched the performance but did not intervene.
Shilpa, a member of the Stop Shopping Choir who sang at today’s action, said:
“Art is about truth and art is about possibilities. You can’t pollute truth. We need arts institutions to be committed to telling real stories, connecting with real people to create a better world, not greenwashing for fossil fuel corporations.”
Francesca, a member of BP or not BP? and a dance artist, who played the role of the BP-branded dancer in today’s performance, said:
“The arts are vital to climate justice. Creativity helps us imagine new, equitable worlds and envision ways to make them reality. When prominent cultural organisations partner with fossil fuel giants it undermines these possibilities; BP is able to associate its name with arts and culture, rather than the ecological damage and human suffering caused by the climate crisis it helped create. BP isn’t sponsoring the Ballet because it cares about the arts, it’s doing it to maintain its public image so it can dig up and sell more oil and gas that we can’t afford to burn.”
She also said:
“By choosing to dance with the devil in this way, the Scottish Ballet is seriously out of step with the rest of the UK arts and culture sector. Most of the prominent arts venues in the UK that used to have oil sponsorship have dropped their oil sponsors in the last five years, including the Edinburgh Festival, RSC and National Theatre. It’s time for the arts to stop providing cover for the companies most responsible for the climate emergency. It’s time to give BP its swansong.”
No information is publicly available on the value of the Scottish Ballet’s BP sponsorship, but similar partnerships at other venues suggest it will only be a small percentage of the Ballet’s income. The much more high-profile BP deal at the Royal Opera House in London provides less than 1% of the opera’s income.
Today’s action comes hot on the heels of a separate challenge to oil sponsorship in London, where 90 archaeologists and heritage professionals have signed an open letter against BP’s long-running partnership with the British Museum. In the letter, they say that the BP sponsorship is “entirely at odds with values of humanistic enquiry and education”, and in the wake of the “unprecedented climactic and environmental crisis now facing humanity… we are therefore writing to urge you to end your sponsorship relationship with BP”.