RSC draws an early curtain on BP sponsorship deal

This morning, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company Gregory Doran announced that the theatre company would end its partnership with oil giant BP this year, several years before the sponsorship deal was due to elapse. The news comes just a week after young people and school strikers pledged to boycott the RSC if it did not drop BP’s branding of the theatre’s ticket scheme for 16-25 year olds, and follows actor Mark Rylance’s decision to resign as an Associate Artist earlier this year because of the association with BP. 

Campaigners are now calling on the remaining BP sponsored institutions in the block 5-year deal – the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Opera House – to follow the RSC’s “ethical leadership” and cut their ties to the oil giant.

Chris Garrard, Co-director of Culture Unstained, which campaigns for an end to fossil fuel funding of culture, said:

‘The Royal Shakespeare Company’s decision to drop BP as a sponsor years before the partnership was due to end is a clear sign that – in a time of climate emergency – fossil fuel funding is just too toxic. This seismic shift is down to the actors, activists and school strikers who have powerfully shone a spotlight on BP’s destructive business and how, even now, the company is 97% invested in fossil fuels. It’s time other BP-sponsored institutions – the British Museum, Royal Opera House and National Portrait Gallery – followed the RSC’s ethical leadership.’

Ella Road, a playwright who supports the campaign against oil sponsorship, said:

‘It’s wonderful that the RSC have chosen to publicly cut their ties with BP, and I hope that other cultural institutions will follow suit. In this time of climate crisis it is simply not acceptable for our theatres and civic spaces to be used as advertising platforms for the very companies that are perpetuating climate change. Having the branding of oil companies such as BP present in these buildings allows them to reinforce the unhelpful image that they are somehow a necessary or positive part of our culture – an impression we must desperately move away from if we want any hope of imagining and actualising a more sustainable society.’

Oil sponsorship of cultural organisations has been the target of creative activism for over a decade, with some high profile successes, such as Tate, the Edinburgh International Festival and the Van Gogh museum dropping their fossil fuel sponsors following pressure. In recent months, the criticism has become more high profile, with Gary Hume, one of the judges of the 2019 BP Portrait Award calling for the sponsor to be dropped and being joined in his call by some of Britain’s most well-known artists. Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif recently resigned from the British Museum’s board of trustees, in part, over its ongoing relationship with BP and February saw the biggest protest in the British Museum’s 260-year history in response to BP’s sponsorship of its exhibition on Assyria.

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