The campaign to end oil sponsorship has won an award!

On Friday night we were delighted to learn that the campaign to end oil sponsorship of culture had won ‘Best Campaign’ at the Creative Green Awards! We accepted it at a virtual ceremony, along with members of BP or not BP?, on behalf of all those who have turned the tide on oil sponsorship, from activists to artists, workers to frontline communities. We promised to continue to creatively hold the fossil fuel industry to account and demand climate justice.

The award was for the entire Art Not Oil coalition of groups, including Culture Unstained, BP or not BP?, the PCS Culture Group, Liberate Tate and Platform, as well as the wider movement of artists, culture sector workers, theatre-makers and creatives who have so powerfully called for an end to oil sponsorship of our museums, galleries and theatres. It recognised the incredible domino effect of successes the campaign has seen since October 2019, with the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre, National Galleries Scotland, Southbank Centre and BFI all ending their relationships with oil companies.

The Creative Green Awards, now in their fourth year, recognise and honour the achievements of the creative community taking action on climate change. They are organised by Julie’s Bicycle in partnership with Season for Change. The ‘Best Campaign’ award is new this year, and we are honoured that our movement has been the first to win it.

About the campaign to end oil sponsorship

For well over a decade, a loose coalition of organisations and artists have campaigned collectively to end oil sponsorship of cultural institutions in the UK, aiming to undermine the social legitimacy that firms such as BP and Shell seek from these partnerships. The oil and gas industry has been both a massive producer of greenhouse gas emissions historically and a major obstacle to climate action. For years, these firms backed the spread of climate science disinformation, lobbied against climate action and invested billions in new fossil fuels.

Over the last two years, this creative opposition to Big Oil’s partnerships with cultural organisations has yielded big results: it ended long-running and high-profile sponsorship deals, instigated an urgent conversation about the acceptability of fossil fuel funding, and shifted opinion in the cultural sector as well as among the public.

A domino effect of wins in 2019-20

The impact of years of campaigning really bore fruit in 2019-20. In October, the Royal Shakespeare Company ended its long-running sponsorship deal with BP and, two days later, the National Theatre announced the end of its partnership with Shell. The Southbank Centre and BFI followed suit just a few months later. National Galleries Scotland also decided to no longer host the ‘BP Portrait Award’ exhibition.

BP’s CEO has acknowledged the pressure created by this campaign. But its success is down to the broad spectrum of people it has mobilised, from actor Mark Rylance resigning from the RSC over its lack of movement on BP, author Ahdaf Soueif resigning from the British Museum board of trustees and artist Gary Hume speaking out as judge of the BP Portrait Award, to the thousands of workers, climate strikers, frontline groups, artists and activists joining the movement.

A wide range of tactics

Part of the success of the campaign can be chalked up to the wide range of tactics employed. They have included:

  • groups such as Liberate Tate, BP or not BP? and Shell Out Sounds using performance art, theatre, music and direct action in creative protests at oil-sponsored cultural institutions
  • organisations such as Culture Unstained and Platform supporting artists and workers to speak out and gathering damning evidence of undue influence by BP and Shell
  • arts workers represented by the PCS Union passing a motion to oppose oil sponsorship, then mobilising in relevant institutions
  • frontline and Indigenous communities speaking out to powerfully challenge decision-makers at Tate, the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery
  • youth climate strikers writing to the RSC calling for an end to BP sponsorship of tickets for young people and promising a boycott

Ultimately, the series of high-profile wins over the last year are the fruits of many years’ hard work stretching back to London Rising Tide first protesting against Shell and BP sponsorship 16 years ago. The campaign has demonstrated the effectiveness of building a broad coalition that employs different tactics and mobilises a diverse range of groups as part of one ambitious strategy.

It has highlighted the symbolic power that museums, galleries and theatres have in society, and the ways in which that power can be turned into climate action. It has expanded the ways in which art can be used for climate action and protest – Liberate Tate and BP or not BP? in particular are regularly highlighted as leading innovators in creative activism. And it has helped inspire highly successful campaigns in France, the Netherlands, Norway and the US.

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