In the same way that tobacco companies eventually had to face that they could no longer maintain an image of philanthropy while securing massive cheap advertising through sponsorship, nearly a decade later, the tide is turning against oil companies, and BP in particular.
The actual worth of individual sponsorship deals is a closely-guarded secret, and indeed the subject of scrutiny in the High Court last week under a Freedom of Information challenge from Request Initiative. But BP has admitted to giving around £2 million pounds split between the Royal Opera House, the Tate galleries, the National Portrait Gallery, and the British Museum. This is the amount of profit generated in about an hour and a half according to record profit figures announced this week.
So what do they get for this drop in the ocean? Well, first is a massive amount of tax-free and cheap advertising, plastering their brand all over events, merchandise, and banners. Second, a profound greenwashing effect, as their brand becomes associated with high-end art and beautiful spaces, rather than with global tax-avoidance, and the pollution, destruction and mayhem caused by their true core business.
Campaigners point out that if oil companies paid fair taxes, the arts could easily be adequately funded and sponsorship would become unnecessary. And it seems more and more people are agreeing with them. The tide is turning against the fossil fuel industry in just the same way that it did against tobacco a decade and more ago.
With the recent US court verdict that BP was ‘grossly negligent’ and its ‘recklessness’ caused the deaths of 11 workers at the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010, arts activist group “BP or not BP” attracted support from some London Quakers as well as meditation activists “Dharma Action Network for Engaging Climate (DANCE)” to perform a “flash-spill” at the British Museum on Sunday morning ahead of the massive People’s Climate March.
After laying a large shiny oil-spill (made from cloth) in front of the entrance to the BP-sponsored Ming exhibition, they performed a short tableau about the Deepwater Horizon disaster, comprising spoken verses about the effects of oil spill interspersed with the chorus:
“BP is guilty of gross negligence, why does the British Museum stand by? BP is guilty of gross negligence, why is this museum promoting its lies?“
After laying 11 flowers for the 11 human victims of BP negligence, and depicting the wildlife and other workers affected, they were joined by the meditation and Quaker supporters and sat in silence for 11 minutes.
After a peaceful exit, they posed with their ‘slick’ for more press photos on the steps of the museum, before joining the Climate March in Viking garb (a reference to a previous protest performance).
Earlier in the week, the BP-sponsored Royal Opera House big screen live projection in Trafalgar Square was interrupted by an activist dance and chanting, and the previous week, what at first appeared to be a huge art installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine hall turned out to be a protest about Tate’s refusal to comply with a Freedom of Information request about BP sponsorship.
With all this attention, despite record profits, BP must be beginning to feel the strain.
If you want to help force BP out of the arts, then look at bp-or-not-bp.org for some simple ideas of actions you can take.