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British Museum’s BP sponsorship deal ‘astonishingly out of touch’


Activists have criticized the British Museum for being “shockingly disconnected” after revealing a decade-long collaboration with BP worth £50 million to support a major renovation project.

On Tuesday, the museum declared that the energy company will assist in financing its ambitious project, “masterplan,” which is expected to cost £1 billion.

The entire collection will be redisplayed after a complete renovation of its deteriorating but impressive building in Bloomsbury, located in central London.

The museum stated that the masterplan, which has been in the works for years, is of great significance due to its extensive scale, complexity, and importance. It is considered to be one of the largest cultural redevelopment projects ever attempted.

The museum announced that BP’s contribution is the largest donation ever made to the cultural sector in the UK. The funds will be used to renovate galleries on the western side of the museum, which currently display collections from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Activists have criticized the donation, claiming that the energy company is attempting to improve their image through greenwashing.

Chris Garrard, one of the leaders of Culture Unstained, expressed shock and disapproval towards the agreement, deeming it completely unjustifiable. He also stated that campaigners will take formal action to challenge it.

He stated that the only method to enter into a new sponsorship agreement with a destructive fossil fuel corporation in 2023 is by deliberately ignoring the reality of the climate emergency and disregarding the significant decrease in support for fossil fuel financing in the cultural industry in recent times.

For years, the museum has been a site of loud and disruptive demonstrations, and it appears that this will persist.

On X, the activist organization BP or Not BP? expressed their disapproval of partnering with a major polluter in 2023 and claiming to be sustainable. They referred to this as #climate denial and stated that this deal will not be allowed to continue.

Doug Parr, the UK’s Greenpeace policy director, stated that the arts and culture industry has been gradually severing connections with major oil companies upon realizing their role in helping to improve their environmentally damaging reputation. However, BP has managed to regain a partnership with the British Museum through what is likely one of the most significant and bold attempts at greenwashing in the sector.

“No cultural establishment that has a responsibility to educate and inform should be allowing fossil fuel companies to pay them to clean their image, not least the British Museum who have been here before. Did they learn nothing?”

In the past few years, BP’s sponsorship has been discontinued by various arts institutions such as the National Portrait Gallery, Tate, and the Royal Opera House.

The partnership between BP and the British Museum, which had been ongoing for 27 years, was believed to have ended this year. However, recent evidence shows that this is not the case.

The museum’s representative stated that there is a pressing need for renovation. They also mentioned that in order to complete this large-scale modernization, they must take into account donations from corporations and individuals.

They stated that they require substantial financial assistance in order to progress and ensure the longevity of this museum for future generations. They expressed their pleasure in receiving support from BP.

The BP sponsorship was approved by the museum’s trustees, headed by former Conservative chancellor George Osborne, in late June.

The recorded notes from the meeting show that the decision was made unanimously, despite some trustees expressing their individual objections to receiving funding from certain sponsors. Additionally, it has been revealed that Muriel Gray, a broadcaster, submitted her resignation as a trustee in November, citing personal reasons according to the minutes.

The museum has concluded a tumultuous period, as its global standing was compromised when it was discovered that approximately 1,500 artifacts were stolen over several years.

The museum’s disregard for theft warnings became evident, leading to the resignation of director Hartwig Fischer. It was recently revealed that Fischer’s deputy, Jonathan Williams, had also departed.

The museum remains under intense scrutiny for numerous requests for return, especially regarding the Parthenon marbles. Last month, this issue sparked a global diplomatic dispute when Rishi Sunak canceled a meeting with Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek Prime Minister, after he demanded the sculptures be returned prior to their scheduled discussions.

BP’s sponsorship was revealed at the same time as the museum’s proposal for a new energy center that aims to eliminate the use of fossil fuels on the museum’s property.

The museum has announced that it will stay open during the renovation, unlike the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which shut down for a decade and spent €375 million on its renovations, and the National Portrait Gallery, which recently reopened after a three-year closure.

Louise Kingham, the chairperson of BP, expressed the company’s satisfaction with their collaboration with the museum. She noted that the British Museum serves as a global gateway for the millions of visitors it receives annually. As a company that has been based in Britain for more than one hundred years, we take pride in our longstanding partnership with this significant British establishment and are committed to contributing to its future development.

The head of the committee in charge of the museum’s masterplan, Charlie Mayfield, stated that while the British Museum is a popular and significant cultural establishment globally, some of its structures are more than two centuries old and require immediate renovation. This is why the masterplan is crucial, and it is thrilling to see progress being made with our plans.

Source: theguardian.com