Letter from portrait artists to National Portrait Gallery director

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To: Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery

Monday 10th June 2019

Dear Nicholas,

We write to you as former winners, shortlisted artists and exhibitors in the BP Portrait Award. We are hugely grateful for the opportunities and recognition the award has brought to our work, but feel we must now speak publicly about our concerns with the choice of BP as sponsor.

We are in a climate emergency. Evidence of the damage fossil fuels cause to the climate, and especially to poor, marginalised and vulnerable communities worldwide, is irrefutable. BP spends millions lobbying against solutions and responsible regulations while seeking out new sources of oil and gas, often in partnership with repressive regimes. As such, the company is not just one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers, but a serious obstacle to progress on the climate crisis.

You said in a recent interview: ‘’The principle is vital that every donation we get is scrutinized to make sure that it’s from a source of funding that can be defended. We would never do anything that we felt was inherently wrong.” The refusal of the Sackler Trust grant demonstrated that the Gallery is indeed prepared to reject funding when a donor does not share its values. We urge you to apply this ethical rigour to your relationship with BP, and recognise it is a partnership that can no longer be defended.

We don’t make this statement lightly. We have all benefited from association with the award. However, we want to draw your attention to the position this sponsorship places artists in. With arts funding in decline, growing numbers of artists have little choice over which opportunities to accept or reject, and as the leading competition in its field, the Gallery’s annual award provides an unparalleled platform. That we must be prepared to associate our work with BP, providing a veneer of respectability to one of the world’s worst polluters and drivers of environmental destruction simply to participate, is deeply unfair.

As the director of an internationally respected gallery, you have the opportunity to show leadership by demonstrating what it means for a major cultural institution to not simply acknowledge the climate emergency, but to act accordingly.

Please end this sponsorship deal now.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Benney (exhibited at 8 BP Portrait Awards, shortlisted twice, won the public choice award twice)

Henry Christian-Slane (winner, 2017 BP Young Artist award)

Alan Coulson (won third prize 2012, exhibited three other times)

David Eichenberg (won third prize 2010, exhibited two other times)

Darvish Fakhr (won BP Travel Award 2004, exhibited 4 other years)

Wim Heldens (winner 2011)

Raoul Martinez (exhibited 3 times)

Craig Wylie (winner 2008)