- After 33 years, Royal Opera House confirms that is is ‘not in receipt of BP money’
- Campaigners celebrate ‘seismic shift’ as leading arts organisations shun polluter BP
- British Museum yet to announce whether it will renew BP sponsorship with current deal ending in February
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The Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden has confirmed that after 33 years its sponsorship by the oil and gas company BP has ended. The news emerged following a Royal Opera House event on climate change on Tuesday where an audience question about the status of the sponsorship prompted the venue to admit that it is ‘no longer in receipt of BP money’. It is understood that BP’s 5-year sponsorship deal which began in 2018 had not been renewed. In a comment to the Guardian, the ROH confirmed that they “agreed that the partnership would not extend beyond 22 December, when BP’s contract came to an end.”
The Royal Opera House (ROH) joins the Royal Shakespeare Company, which ended its BP sponsorship mid-contract in 2019, and the National Portrait Gallery, which announced the end of its partnership last year, as opposition to fossil fuel funding has grown and scrutiny of BP’s ongoing investment in new oil and gas has intensified. These three prominent cultural institutions had been part of a block 5-year sponsorship deal that was announced in 2016, alongside the British Museum, which is yet to confirm whether it will renew its relationship with BP when its contract with the company formally comes to an end in February. The deal had been criticised for how it helped BP to “artwash” its brand in the aftermath of its Gulf of Mexico oil spill, deflect attention from its dire record on climate change and provided BP with iconic venues for lobbying key policymakers at operas and exhibition openings.
Chris Garrard, a composer and Co-director of the organisation Culture Unstained, said:
‘What we are witnessing is a seismic shift, a near wholesale rejection across the arts of BP’s brand and the climate-wrecking business it represents. By bringing down the curtain on fossil fuel funding, the Royal Opera House can now play a leading role in creating the culture beyond oil we so urgently need.
For many years, BP was the sponsor of the Royal Opera House’s ‘BP Big Screens’, a series of live opera screenings which took place across the country with the flagship event taking place in Trafalgar Square where BP-branded baseball caps and ponchos were handed out to opera-goers. In 2016, many respected musicians and composers, including Pulitzer-winning composer John Luther Adams and librettist Paul Griffiths, backed a letter calling on the Opera House to cut its ties to BP. Subsequently in 2019, over 200 leading figures from classical, folk and popular music wrote to London mayor Sadiq Khan urging him to withdraw permission for the event to take place in Trafalgar Square while it continued to be branded by BP.
The Royal Opera House has also faced regular creative protests against its BP sponsorship deal, from ballet-inspired flashmobs in Trafalgar Square to singing protests inside the auditorium, and with musicians and young artists from Extinction Rebellion also taking action in 2019.
Tenor Mark Padmore CBE, who has performed at the ROH, has said:
‘We in the cultural sector need to ask difficult questions and encourage better practices. We must put sustainability, fairness, inclusivity and generosity at the heart of all we do. I welcome the decision to end sponsorship of the Royal Opera House by fossil fuel companies.’
Based on its accounts, BP’s sponsorship represented less than 0.5% of the ROH’s annual income and despite the ROH being BP’s ‘longest standing arts partner’, its sponsorship payment would not have covered the combined salaries of the ROH’s Chief Executive and Musical Director. The ROH has also come under pressure over the pay and conditions it offers some workers within the institution, with members of the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union taking strike action last year.
Despite claims of going ‘net zero’, BP has instead earmarked up to £6.2bn for oil and gas projects next year – including high risk extraction methods such as ultra-deepwater drilling and fracking – with less than 2% of its investments going into low carbon energy from 2010-2018. As well as using sponsorship of arts and culture to launder its image, BP also spent £800k in the last year on social media advertising to greenwash its image, alongside millions spent annually on lobbying against climate legislation.
Will Attenborough of Equity for a Green New Deal, a network of activists within the union, said:
‘As union activists, we are delighted by the decision to drop BP: the work of artists and stage managers at the Royal Opera House is no longer being used to greenwash BP’s reckless behaviour. The arts are a public good, not a luxury for the elite. As such, they should never be reliant on banks or fossil fuels, but receive the full state subsidy they need. As the biggest recipient of Arts Council funding, we hope to see the Royal Opera House’s income shared equitably with all its workers – from actors and dancers, to cleaners and porters.‘