On 17 February 2014, the British Museum was offered to buy a painting by a group of Aboriginal women painters in Australia, for use in its Enduring Civilisation exhibition. A British Museum staff member then sent the following email to a counterpart at BP:
“We have heard back from the Spinifex women’s painters … We have been offered the opportunity to purchase one of their current works. The curator of the Australia exhibition is keen to move forward with this so we just wanted to make sure you had no objection to this?”
The BP respondent promptly replied, “That’s fine – thanks”.
Think on this a little while. The team curating the biggest show of Aboriginal Australian art ever to take place in London gets sign-off on a curatorial decision from an oil company who at that point, incidentally, is pushing through controversial plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight.
This story and others surfaced among internal emails released by the Art Not Oil coalition.
While it was announced recently that Tate’s BP sponsorship would end in 2017, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Royal Opera House are all still BP-sponsored. The deals are currently under review as they are due to end within a year.
And this week, Tate goes to court to defend its secrecy over BP. We’ll be watching the court case closely. Here is why.
“Dear all – we have had an indication that there will be increased activist action around the BP arts & culture programme in 2015. The BP security team have requested a meeting to discuss the impending action, I’m hoping we can arrange this during the first two weeks of February. Can I please ask you to provide [name redacted] with your availability in February, the meeting should include a representative from your security team.”
BP sent this email to its partner institutions on 15 January 2015. Managers from the British Museum, Tate, National Portrait Gallery and the Science Museum all gathered at BP’s invitation to discuss ‘suggested measures’ for dealing with protest.
BP was able to actually instigate museum events for its business convenience, by offering extra cash. In this way, BP instigated the ‘Days of the Dead Festival’ in the British Museum in 2015, involving a VIP reception where members of the Mexican government mingled with BP staff. At just the right time for bidding on newly available oil leases in the Mexican portion of the Gulf of Mexico.
A British Museum employee told Art Not Oil on the condition of anonymity:
‘The feeling from the majority of staff on events such as these is ‘why are we doing this’? … There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the project is due to the whim of a funder, … we don’t have a choice in the matter.’
Sponsorship is in effect a way of running public institutions for corporate benefit – a soft and creeping privatisation. BP can intervene in curation, BP can apparently even instigate museum events and programmes as and when suits it, and BP can shape the museums’ response to criticism and inquiry.
All these revelations were possible through a long series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. But the more public institutions are run in commercial interest, the less they are answerable to FOI. ‘Commercial interest’ is being used to evade disclosure by Tate, British Museum, and others. This is what activist art group Platform are battling in the Information Tribunal against Tate.
Last time the dispute went to trial, Tate tried to argue in court that disclosing information about the sponsorship would ‘offend’ BP or undermine its trust in the gallery.
The campaigners won the previous case. But still, the gallery was only bound to disclose the amounts BP gave up until 2006 – which, incidentally, amounted for not more than 0.5% of Tate’s total income. Hence the new appeal for disclosure on figures past that date.
Since then, in a major victory for the movement for fossil-free culture, it was announced that Tate’s sponsorship by BP was ending.
BP spokesperson Shannon Wiseman claimed to us that Tate and BP’s breakup had nothing to do with pressure from artists, protestors, or museum-goers or as a result of last year’s informational tribunal. She said,
“We are facing an extremely challenging business environment and are reducing spending and taking many difficult decisions throughout BP. As a result we have reluctantly decided not to renew our long-term partnership with Tate Britain.”
Tellingly, a Tate spokesperson provided a statement that matches BP’s almost word-for-word.
Why is Tate really obfuscating sponsorship details? Does BP’s influence end as the sponsorship deal ends? Judging by those press statements, we can be pretty certain it does not. And will the new Freedom of Information court case help expose how BP runs its sponsored museums? Let’s hope so.
The Information Tribunal hearing is open to the public and takes place from 10am on 11 May at Court H, Residential Property Tribunal, 10 Alfred Place, London WC1E 7LR. Read the full report by Art Not Oil. Call on the new director of the British Museum to drop BP here.
Photo: Art Not Oil perform in the British Museum, credit to Natasha Quarmby
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant