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Campaigners turn on arts organisations after Tate ends BP sponsorship deal

Environmental campaigners have said they will turn their attentions to other arts institutions that receive fossil fuel sponsorship. Photo: Julius Kielaitis/Shutterstock
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Environmental campaigners have said they will shift their focus on to performing arts institutions including the Royal Opera House and Royal Shakespeare Company, following news that the Tate is ending its 27-year sponsorship deal with BP.

They have warned that arts organisations including the ROH and RSC, as well as the National Theatre, are legitimising “dangerous” fossil fuel companies by continuing with lucrative sponsorship deals.

However, the publicly-funded companies insist that such deals are a vital part of the mixed income streams that support the work on their stages.

Following news that Tate galleries will end their sponsorship with BP in 2017, one of the leading groups behind the campaign to end the deal has vowed to target other high-profile arts organisations in a bid to sever the relationship between fossil fuel companies and cultural institutions.

Mika Minio, from arts activist Platform, said organisations like the ROH – which receives sponsorship from BP for its season of outdoor screenings – were giving oil companies enormous power by accepting their money.

He said the group would be refocusing its efforts primarily on major London-based arts organisations such as the ROH, but also the British Museum and the Science Museum, which he said would all soon be renegotiating deals with BP.

“It’s a lot more than just saying we want arts institutions to be pure and clean. It’s more about that we don’t think public spaces should be giving power, ultimately, to private corporations. It’s dangerous,” he told The Stage.

Last year, Platform launched the Fossil Funds Free campaign, which now has more than 300 individuals and organisations, including the Royal Court and the Arcola, pledging to boycott sponsorship from oil companies.

Minio added that the campaign would now be “pushing very hard at the door of theatre” to encourage more organisations to join.

“What’s interesting with theatre is that it is leading the pack with people like the Royal Court, by saying, ‘This is not acceptable’, and at the same time you’ve got the ROH trailing behind,” he said.

Platform estimates that most sponsorship deals with fossil fuel companies are worth between £250,000 and £500,000 per year; however, precise figures are not published publicly.

The campaign to end Tate’s BP sponsorship has included public demonstrations by groups such as Platform, as well as art collective Liberate Tate, whose performances have included a “mass exorcism” at Tate Modern and involved an activist being doused in oil at Tate Britain. Late last year Platform also staged an unauthorised festival within Tate Modern, comprising theatre performances, debates and interventions, an event Minio said the group was hoping to replicate. He added that it was “highly likely” that interventions could take place at public performances in London later this year.

The Royal Shakespeare Company also receives BP sponsorship for its £5 tickets scheme and its 16-25 Shakespeare Pass, while Edinburgh International Festival and the Hull UK City of Culture 2017 initiative both have deals with the oil company.

Elsewhere, the National Theatre lists Shell as one of its corporate sponsors, although the neighbouring Southbank Centre dropped Shell as a sponsor in 2014.

A statement from BP said it had ended its partnership with Tate due to “an extremely challenging business environment” and reductions in its spending.

The company added that it did not have any plans to exit its other arts partnerships.

A spokeswoman for the ROH said the income generated through corporate partnerships was “vital to the mixed economy of successful arts organisations and enables each of us to deliver a rich and vibrant cultural programme”.

She added that the ROH was grateful to BP for its sponsorship, which it has held since 1988.

A statement from the RSC said: “We rely on a mix of income to deliver our programme to the widest audience, which includes sponsorship as well as donations, ticket sales and commercial trading alongside public funding. We do consider partners carefully and the partnership with BP has the full backing of our board.”

The National Theatre, Edinburgh International Festival and Hull UK City of Culture had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

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