British Museum Members’ Open Letter: Drop BP

Last year, Culture Unstained revealed that the Director of the British Museum is pushing ahead with renewing the museum’s controversial sponsorship deal with the oil and gas giant BP, despite huge opposition to the partnership.

Many British Museum members have raised their concerns privately with the Museum, but have been dissatisfied with the response received. Now members are speaking out.

Are you a British Museum member? Add your name to the Open Letter to call for an end to the Museum’s relationship with BP.

Members are committed to the Museum’s work and future – this should be a future without BP.

  • British Museum members provide crucial financial support to the Museum through their donations to the British Museum Friends. Members contributed around £4 million to the museum in 2019-20, more than 8 times what the BP sponsorship deal is worth. 

A museum of the world, for the world? Then BP must go

The Museum claims it is committed to reducing its environmental impact – but this is incompatible with continuing to promote one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers.

BP’s oil and gas extraction is playing an extremely damaging role in driving the climate crisis. The majority of BP’s business remains in the production and refining of oil and fossil gas. The International Energy Agency has said we can have no more investments in new reserves of oil and gas if we are to meet the 1.5°C target in the Paris Climate Agreement, but BP continues to invest in new exploration, which will drive us further into global climate catastrophe.

A museum ‘of the world’ – and especially one that hopes to engage young visitors – must show leadership and cut its ties with the corporations that continue to imperil their futures.

The museum has faced regular large-scale protests over its association with BP. In 2020 it was occupied for three days during its BP-sponsored Troy exhibition, after a huge Trojan Horse was brought into the museum’s courtyard, and over 1500 people participated in talks and creative protest. Image: All rights reserved © Ron Fassbender.

Sponsorship damages the Museum

Sponsorship by corporations such as BP is not a benevolent act: it is a commercial transaction.

BP is paying for a range of benefits, crucial for reinforcing its ‘social licence to operate’ among key stakeholders and the public. These include the use of iconic Museum spaces for events to develop its business and political relationships, and promotion of a positive brand image through its association with the Museum and its activities.

In contrast, continuing this association, and the endorsement of the company that it represents, taints the Museum’s own reputation, a harm that will only increase the longer the association continues.

Museum Trustee Ahdaf Soueif resigned from the Board in 2019: “The public relations value that the museum gives to BP is unique, but the sum of money BP gives the museum is not unattainable elsewhere.”

Increasingly isolated

The British Museum has a significant opportunity to reassert a leading role within its field by taking an important moral stance on the central challenge of this century and affirming that fossil fuel promotion has no place within our great cultural institutions.’

Open letter to the museum from over 300 archaeologists and heritage professionals, February 2022

The British Museum is increasingly isolated in its support for BP. Most other cultural institutions, including the National Portrait Gallery, Tate and the Royal Shakespeare Company, have now ended their own relationships with the oil company.

It now has an opportunity to step up to this moment of unprecedented historical challenge and take the decision to move beyond BP – or be left behind.

  • This recent submission to the Board from Culture Unstained and a group of climate and museum experts sets out in detail how ending the relationship with BP would be well within the museum Trustees’ legal obligations

British Museum members can sign the open letter here.

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