Pressure Mounts on the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to go Beyond Petroleum

Tuesday 21st June 2016

In a new letter (1), signed by six key environmental organisations and the Scottish Green Party, ‘BP or not BP? Scotland’ has again called on the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (SNPG) to cut ties with disgraced oil company BP. The popular annual BP Portrait Award opens to the public this Thursday 23rd June at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London and will tour to the SNPG in Edinburgh from late November until March 2017.

The seven signatories urge SNPG Director, Christopher Baker, a judge of the 2016 Award, to put appropriate pressure on National Galleries of Scotland and NPG Trustees to end BP sponsorship of the Awards. The NPG Portrait Award, originally the Imperial Tobacco Award, is now in its 37th year with NPG having accepted 27 years of BP sponsorship, replacing British American Tobacco in 1990. They sign a five-year rolling contract with BP which is up for renewal at the end of 2016. Campaigners hope that increasing public objection will persuade the NPG not to renew this senseless and unprincipled deal.

The letter highlights a chorus of recent protest against BP sponsorship and recent successes including the end of the 34-year contract between BP and the Edinburgh International Festival, announced in April. The Art Not Oil coalition launched a damning report on the 3rd May, which exposes the multiple ways BP has exerted “A Corrupting Influence” on the museums and galleries it sponsors. A copy of the report, which uncovers communications between BP and the SNPG, was also included (2). The Museums Association is formally investigating Art not Oil’s findings. ‘BP or not BP? Scotland’ is seeking further communications between BP and the SNPG via new FOI requests.

The escalating scale and effectiveness of protest and the increasing numbers of people, charities, environmental organisations and governments working together internationally to reject fossil fuels is making BP sponsorship an unfeasibly toxic liability.

In support of BP or not BP’s aims, Ross Greer, Scottish Green MSP for the West of Scotland has pledged further support by offering to propose a motion to the Scottish Parliament. He will be seeking cross party support on the issue of our arts and cultural institutions breaking free from fossil fuel company sponsorship; calling an end to oil industry sponsorship of the arts in Scotland altogether.

Claire Robertson, a spokesperson for BP or not BP? Scotland said “It is shameful that a leading cultural institution, which should represent a society concerned for the welfare of its people and their environment, should continue to deem this sponsorship acceptable. BP is driving climate change by its continued exploration for new fossil fuels and lobbying against clean energy. Every year it causes spills, disasters and conflict. It’s time this backwards organisation was shown the door, as the Tobacco companies were in the 80s”.

Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland said, “BP are an icon of a dirty and dying industry and they shouldn’t be allowed to disguise their role in climate change and oil spills by pretending an interest in art. Artists and galleries do need money to bring art to the public but BP and the rest of the fossil fuel industry should be beyond the pale. We urge the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to ditch BP.”

Dr Chris Garrard, key member of the Art not Oil coalition and author of their report [2] said, “The National Portrait Gallery would like us to believe that BP has no curatorial influence over the Portrait Award, even though one of the company’s senior staff sits on the judging panel. On top of that, our research has exposed how BP passes on intelligence and tries to shape security procedures at the institutions it sponsors, making sure the galleries defend BP’s tarnished reputation from those raising legitimate concerns. The only way these galleries can restore the public’s trust in them is by cutting their ties to this unethical sponsor.”  

Alan Munro of Divest Lothian said, “Public institutions have a moral duty to demonstrate leadership in the fight against climate change. We believe that the most important first step they can take is to sever financial ties to companies whose business model depends on the burning of fossil fuels.”




BP or not BP? Scotland:

Friends of the Earth Scotland:, tel: 0131 243 2715

Who we are:

BP or not BP? Scotland

The Scottish Green Party

Friends of the Earth Scotland

Art not Oil


People & Planet (The University of Edinburgh)

Divest Lothian


Notes to editor:

  1. Letter to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, BP or not BP? Scotland, June 2016
  2. ‘BP’s cultural sponsorship: a corrupting influence’, Art not Oil report, May 2016
  3. ‘Museums face ethics investigation over influence of sponsor BP’, The Guardian, April 29th 2016
  4. ‘Sunken cities are not a thing of the past’, Greenpeace UK, May 19th 2016
  5. ‘BP pursues Egyptian oil deals whilst sponsoring blockbuster Egypt exhibition at British Museum, Energy Desk, Greenpeace, May 24th 2016
  6. ‘Mark Ruffalo among names calling for British Museum to drop BP sponsorship’, The Guardian, April 3rd 2016
  7. ‘British Museum must sever its links with BP’, Letter from Margaret Atwood, Mark Ruffalo, Mark Rylance, Tom Kibble, Naomi Klein, Emma Thompson, Vivienne Westwood and others, The Guardian, April 3rd 2016
  8. ‘Sainsbury trio attack BP aid for British Museum’, The Sunday Times, May 15th 2016
  9. ‘BP to end Tate sponsorship after 26 years’, The Guardian, March 11th 2016
  10. ‘BP’s donation to the British Museum’, BP or not BP, March 26th 2016
  11. ‘Divest Scotland’, Friends of the Earth, Scotland
  12. ‘Mind the Gap: Contradictions in Tate’s ethical decision-making over BP, Platform, June 10th 2015
  13. EU dropped climate policies after BP threat of oil industry exodus’, The Guardian, April 20th 2016
  14. ‘Public Trust’, Museums Association, June 2nd 2015
  15. ‘BP’s sponsorship of Tate is over’, Platform, March 11th 2016
  16. ‘Jim Ratcliffe, Ineos, and the empire of trash’, Feasts, The Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability, June 11th 2016

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