Many artists and performers receive one-off commissions, roles, or workshop invitations from big institutions that are sponsored by fossil fuel companies such as British Museum, Royal Shakespeare Company, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Opera House, Science Museum, National Theatre, and in Norway, Bergen International Festival. Many arts organisations have regular partnerships with these institutions.
Some choose to turn down the opportunity, but not all of us can afford to. In this situation, by signing up to Oil Sponsorship Free, we commit to challenging the institution involved to stop taking fossil fuel sponsorship. As a signatory, we’d appreciate accounts of responses you have received when challenging institutions on their fossil fuel sponsorship.
Public arts funding in many countries is under threat from government cuts. As a result, many arts organisations feel compelled to seek corporate sponsorship. But who we take money from is very important: it acts as an endorsement of our funders. Policies that expand corporate sponsorship go hand in hand with further privatisation. This has ramifications beyond sponsorship: the outsourcing of cultural institutions’ workforces undermines employment security for staff and affects quality for visitors – see the example of the National Gallery in London.
In the UK, it is public funding, not corporate sponsorship, that guarantees that the doors of many museums and galleries stay open, with free access for all. We have proved that oil sponsorship provides a miniscule amount that could never replace public funding, and that it only goes to institutions who already have high prestige and advanced fundraising ability. These institutions are therefore far less likely to struggle as a result of public funding cuts. For example, the British Museum receives less than 0.5% of its budget from BP.
But in the context of public funding cuts it is especially important for artists and cultural organisations to decide independently and openly: what funding are we prepared to accept? And what should we refuse? What are we happy for our funding to do in the world?
Yes we do. At the moment it is all but impossible to use no fossil fuels whatsoever. But refusing to endorse and justify our ongoing reliance on oil and gas – to give it ‘social licence’ through our work – is different and far more powerful than just minimising personal consumption. If we remove the cultural power of fossil fuels, we undermine the political, financial, and diplomatic support companies like BP and Shell desperately need to continue drilling ever deeper.
Fossil-fuelled culture makes it difficult to imagine not using any oil or gas. And by refusing association with fossil fuels we are enabling alternatives to flourish.