Bowing to years of pressure and protests from climate change activists as well as academics and its own staffers, the British Museum has severed ties with BP. The oil and gas conglomerate had been a major sponsor of the London institution for twenty-seven years. The parting of ways comes just four months after the most recent five-year contract between BP and the museum expired and seven months after British Museum chair George Osborne publicly expressed the goal of bringing the institution to net zero. According to The Guardian, which broke the news, the museum in a statement acknowledged that “there are no other contracts or agreements in effect between the museum and BP.”
The British Museum is the latest major UK institution to step away from the fossil fuel producer, trailing Tate (2016), the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Galleries of Scotland (both 2019), and, most recently, the National Portrait Gallery (2022), among others. London’s National Gallery in 2018 stopped accepting funding from Shell, ending a twelve-year partnership. At present, only the UK’s Science Museum receives funding from BP.
Campaign group Culture Unsustained reported that “certain terms” of the partnership remain in effect through the end of 2023, as the museum verbally agreed to allow BP to exercise its “supporter benefits” until that time. The Guardian speculated that this likely means the conglomerate can continue to take advantage of such hospitality privileges as use of the museum’s spaces for corporate entertaining and noted that the perks are unrelated to any funding of the institution’s activities.
British-Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, who resigned from the museum’s board in 2019 partly in protest of BP’s continued funding of the museum, spoke warmly of the decision, asserting, “It is important that institutions like the British Museum do not give Big Oil the opportunity to look like a force for good in society; denying them this platform is important.”
Chris Garrard, a codirector of Culture Unsustained, called the parting of ways a “massive victory” but urged further distancing on the part of the British Museum. “If it is serious about responding to the climate crisis,” he said, “the museum must now confirm that there will be no future relationships with fossil fuel producers, take down BP’s name from its lecture theater, roundly reject the climate-wrecking business it represents.”