21st Oct, 2019

Climate campaigners call on remaining oil-sponsored institutions to follow RSC's lead

CULTURAL institutions should follow RSC’s ‘moral leadership’ say environment activists after the company ditched its controversial sponsorship with oil giant BP.

The RSC announced the partnership with BP – which sponsors its £5 ticket scheme for 16 to 25 to year-olds – would finish at the end of this year, three years before it was due to end.

The news came just a week after young climate strikers threatened to boycott the world famous theatre company if it did not sever ties.

RSC directors said they could no longer ignore the strength of feeling against the partnership including that of associate artist Mark Rylance, who resigned from the company after more than 30 years over the BP association.

Just two days later the National Theatre in London announced it would end Shell’s corporate membership – which allowed the oil company perks in return for £15,000 a year – next June.

And now campaigners are calling on the remaining BP sponsored institutions – the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Opera House – to follow the theatres’ lead.

Among them is activist theatre troupe BP or not BP which has invaded the RSC stage in Stratford several times not least to stage an unexpected warm-up act before a performance of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in 2017. Activist Darragh Martin played a BP spokesperson who addressed the audience before being interrupted by a furious Shakespeare.

Darragh told the Observer: “This is belated but brilliant news. Two years after they dimmed the lights during our stage invasion, and seven years after BP or not BP?’s first protest there, the RSC have finally seen the light and dropped BP’s sponsorship. It’s great that the RSC have listened to the chorus of school strikers, theatre professionals, and communities on the frontlines of BP’s extraction, who have eloquently argued that BP’s business plan is leading us towards climate breakdown.

“This decision paves the way for other institutions sponsored by BP to break free from a rogue corporation spending billions on extracting new oil and gas that we cannot afford to burn. The science on climate change is clear that we have a very limited window for action; other institutions must follow the RSC’s moral leadership and drop BP now.”

But so far other major arts institutions have not followed the RSC’s lead.

London’s National Portrait Gallery – which recently faced criticism over the association from contemporary artist Gary Hume, who judged the gallery’s 2019 BP Portrait Award – has defended the sponsorship.

A spokesperson said: “The ongoing debate around BP’s sponsorship of the arts raises important questions about both the environment and arts funding, and we are listening carefully to voices on all sides.

“BP’s long-term support for the Portrait Award directly encourages the work of talented artists across the world. It also enables free admission to the exhibition, which has already attracted over 270,000 visitors in London this year, and we are grateful for this.

“It is essential for the gallery to work with a wide range of corporate partners to fund our work. Their support enables us to stage activities and exhibitions that we would not be able to do otherwise and to remain free and open to all.

“Support from the corporate sector is essential for museums and arts organisations in times of reduced funding.”

Similarly, The British Museum responded the sponsorship was ‘essential’ at times of reduced funding.

The museum also saw the biggest protest in its 260-year history in response to BP’s sponsorship of one its exhibitions and an even bigger one is being planned next month.

In response to the RSC’s announcement, a BP spokesperson said the company was focused on the ‘duel challenge’ to tackle climate change and deliver energy demands and stressed companies needed to work together to address the issue.

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