This morning, the National Galleries of Scotland have announced that after 2019 it will no longer host the BP Portrait Award because of the prize’s oil sponsorship:
“At the National Galleries of Scotland we recognise that we have a responsibility to do all we can to address the climate emergency. For many people, the association of this competition with BP is seen as being at odds with that aim.
Therefore, after due consideration, the Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland have decided that this will be the last time that the galleries will host this exhibition in its present form.”
Roxana Halls, an artist who has exhibited in the BP Portrait Award 5 times, has said:
“This is a brave and difficult decision on the part of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, one which cannot have been easy to take and which I applaud.”
The arts activist group BP or not BP? Scotland has been at the forefront of the campaign in Edinburgh calling for the National Galleries to stop hosting the award while it remains sponsored by BP. The creative action group BP or not BP? Scotland have performed several times inside the gallery, including with oily portraits and climate-themed Christmas carolling. Alys Mumford, speaking on behalf of the group, has said:
“It is extremely significant that yet another major Scottish cultural institution has dropped fossil fuel sponsorship, following the Edinburgh International Festival in 2015 and the Edinburgh Science Festival earlier this year.
This is a massive win for campaigners who have taken action against the BP portrait award being hosted in Scotland for several years. It sends a clear message that it is no longer socially acceptable to have links with the fossil fuel industry because of their continued role in driving the climate crisis and human rights abuses across the world.
We hope that the few remaining institutions that allow themselves to be used as greenwash for the industry join the National Galleries on the right side of history”
Responding to the news, Chris Garrard, Co-director of Culture Unstained has said:
“This is nothing short of seismic. Following in the footsteps of the RSC and National Theatre, the trustees have recognised that, in a time of climate emergency, an ethical red line must be drawn and BP is on the wrong side of it. Now the National Portrait Gallery must follow this lead, cut its ties with BP and reinvent the Portrait Award as a positive celebration of portraiture, not a promotional tool for a climate criminal.’
The news comes as pressure has been mounting on the National Portrait Gallery to end BP’s branding of its annual portrait award. In June, artist and judge of the BP Portrait Award 2019 Gary Hume spoke out on the eve of the award ceremony, writing publicly to the Gallery’s Director Nicholas Cullinan and calling on him to commit to ending the sponsorship deal.
At the same time, 8 other artists including former winners and those shortlisted for the prize, sent their own letter to Cullinan, echoing Hume’s call. Just a few weeks later, 78 artists – including leading artists Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread and Antony Gormley – gave their support by signing a letter to the National Portrait Gallery, urging the Director to end to the partnership with BP.
In October, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced that its BP sponsorship deal would come to an end some three years before the partnership was due to elapse. Just two days later, the National Theatre in London declared a climate emergency and confirmed that it would not be renewing oil giant Shell’s corporate membership of the theatre when it ends next year.
The news comes as the British Museum prepares to open its latest BP-sponsored exhibition next week, entitled ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’. Earlier this year, bestselling author Ahdaf Soueif resigned from the mueum’s Board, in part, over its refsual to address the issue of the museum’s partnership with BP. The Director an Chairman of the museum have since reaffirmed their support for the sponsorship deal and directly defended BP’s business.