As part of a monthly online feature, Impact investigates the latest news, projects and discoveries in the battle against climate change.
The relationship between artistic institutions and large corporations are nothing if not complicated. The unusual bedfellows have walked a fine line for a generation in their ‘mutually beneficial’ association, which on the artist’s side could at best be described as a necessary evil. British Petroleum, in particular, sponsors vast swathes of the cultural events and institutions of our nation, from the Edinburgh Festival to the National Theatre in London. They’ve even had their logo plastered onto the Paralympics. However, the fault lines are starting to gape with the announcement in March of BP withdrawing its sponsorship from the Tate galleries and the festival in Edinburgh.
The 26 year relationship with the Tate was terminated citing the ‘extremely challenging [contemporary] business environment’ and claimed that recent pressure stemming from the artistic/activist organisation Liberate Tate was unrelated to what was purely a ‘business decision’. A spokesperson from the Tate lauded the relationship, claiming it was an ‘outstanding example of collaboration and patronage’.
The group Liberate caught national attention whilst protesting in unique ways to BP’s sponsorship of the galleries, including writing out sections of books on climate change onto the floor of the turbine hall in the Tate Modern. Yasmin deSilva from Liberate exclaimed “the tide turned on tobacco sponsorship 30 years ago and now the same thing is happening to oil”. She added, “BP’s business model depends on trashing the climate; they now know that Tate will no longer wipe its name clean”. A balanced view of the campaign came from UCL historian Nazneen Ahmed to The Guardian, describing the circumstances surrounding the Tate’s decision to initially accept funding from a company deemed ethically dubious: “Cuts to arts funding since 2010 have meant that cultural institutions have had to make ethical trade-offs to continue operating”. She went on to praise the activists and stated that “public institutions have a responsibility to think about where they choose to get their funding”.
Many are sceptical of the statement given by BP that the demos were not a consideration in their decision to withdraw sponsorship, especially given the value that BP got from the partnership. Per year, BP only donated an amount equivalent to that which they make every hour, similar to the costs for a 30 second advert on a popular television show. The presence of its logo at numerous exhibitions and events gives it unparalleled exposure, value for money and positive reinforcement for its brand image. Dr David Fleming, the president of the Museums Association was blunt in an answer to a question at an event bringing together important figures from the cultural sector: “It clearly has nothing to do with BP’s finances. Somebody somewhere was being mortally embarrassed by the [activist’s] campaign – in the Tate, at BP or both”.
A case into the alleged misrepresentation of the risks of climate change by Exxon Mobil to its investors and the public has been expanded in the U.S. this month. Exxon were forced to disclose details of its communications on climate change in November in New York but is now also being backed up by up to 20 other states. Al Gore, the famed politician who created the film An Inconvenient Truth warning of the dangers of climate change hailed the announcement of legal action as a ‘turning point’ against obtuse and unaccountable fossil fuel conglomerates. Exxon countered that any assumption it withheld information on the topic was ‘preposterous’ and based on a ‘false premise’ that Exxon Mobil had ‘solid conclusions on athropogenic climate change before the world’s experts’.
8:30pm on March 19th marked the tenth ‘Earth Hour’ where people are encouraged to turn off all non-essential electrical lighting for one hour to symbolise solidarity and commitment to the planet. Citizens from 178 countries took part in the world’s largest demonstration to date highlighting the dangers of escalating climate change. This included 400 of the world’s most iconic landmarks from the Empire State Building to the Sydney Opera House in Australia. The event was organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature and originated in Sydney in 2007. Despite the proven drop in energy consumption during previous Earth Hours, the event is intended as more of a symbol of hope than a solution.
Editor for the Science Section of University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.