National Portrait Gallery spent £22k to keep end of BP sponsorship under wraps

As the British Museum refuses to comment on the status of its partnership with BP – even after its contract has apparently ended – Culture Unstained has published new documents revealing how the National Portrait Gallery spent £22k to keep the end of its sponsorship deal under wraps.

On the 19th February, the British Museum’s current sponsorship contract with the oil and gas company BP came to an end but the museum now refuses to comment on whether this marks a final end to the controversial partnership – raising questions about whether the museum is attempting to stage manage BP’s exit or if a new agreement is about to be announced.

New documents made public today show how attempts to dodge controversy, even after a controversial sponsor such as BP has been dropped, are not new. The documents, released under Freedom of Information rules, reveal how London’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG) spent more than £22,000 in legal fees to avoid disclosing information about the end of its own contract with the fossil fuel giant in 2022.

The documents show:

  • How the Gallery spent £22k appealing a decision by the UK Information Commissioner ordering it to disclose documents about the status of its BP sponsorship – to then drop its appeal after the end of the sponsorship was announced in February 2022.
  • How the Gallery appears to have submitted that appeal just in order to delay and manage how the announcement would be made – at a total cost of £22,320. The documents that were eventually released reveal a non-disparagement clause signed by the Gallery as part of its agreement with BP, a possible reason for the Gallery’s attempts to carefully stage-manage its sponsor’s exit.
  • How the Gallery’s Ethics Committee blocked a promise to reward BP with naming rights for a new Gallery space as early as 2020 – the NPG has since clarified that BP’s support “will not be acknowledged once we reopen in 2023.”

The NPG’s deal with BP was part of a block sponsorship deal with four of the UK’s leading cultural institutions announced in 2016. Three out of four of these deals have now been formally terminated, with the Royal Opera House confirming in January that its deal had also ended. The Royal Shakespeare Company withdrew mid-contract in 2019. 

Yet, the British Museum still refuses to confirm the status of its relationship with BP – even though its current contract ended on 19th February.

A spokesperson for Culture Unstained has said:

“It’s hard to fathom why the Gallery went to such great lengths – and expense – to keep the discussions around the end of its BP sponsorship deal under wraps – especially if it had already accepted that it should not be promoting a major polluter on its walls. 

Rather than stage-managing BP’s exit from the arts, the National Portrait Gallery should have been seizing the opportunity to signal a step change in its ethics and show climate leadership. The British Museum must now take the opportunity that the Gallery missed – and drop BP for good.” 

Read the full documents online at: