A group of 15 fee-paying Tate members have sent a letter (see below) to the Tate Member’s council in advance of tonight’s Members’ AGM at Tate Modern asking questions about the controversial relationship between Tate and BP. At last year’s AGM, members of Liberate Tate handed over a petition of more than 8,000 people calling on Tate to drop BP as a sponsor.

Jamie Kelsey-Fry, a Tate Member and one of the signatories of the letter said:

As a member of the Tate I find it increasingly abhorrent that the celebration of human culture is tainted by a source of sponsorship in the form of BP, that is condemning humanity to a future devastated by climate change. Now, it is tainted further by hypocrisy, in that the Tate’s Ethics Policy states it “will not accept funds tainted through criminal conduct.” BP has just been given a record US criminal fine and is pleading guilty to 14 criminal charges over the Deepwater disaster.

A number of people are also taking part today in an en masse listening of the Tate a Tate audio tour – a three part sound work informed by BP sponsorship that is designed to be listened to in Tate Britain, Tate Modern and the boat journey in between. The mass listening starts at 2.45 at Tate Britain and runs up to the Tate Members AGM at Tate Modern at 18.45, including questions and answers with the different sound artists who made the audio tour.

If you are a Tate member who feels that Tate shouldn’t be helping BP to greenwash itself, then get in touch with [email protected]

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Dear Tate Council Member,

We are writing to you as a collection of Tate Members to express our concern about Tate’s ongoing relationship with BP and to ask why there doesn’t seem to have been a response to Tate Members on the issues despite the repeated enquiries. This letter has been sent to all other members of the Tate Council as well as yourself.

This letter comes with a great deal of collective admiration for the work that Tate does and for the cultural contribution it makes to society. We pay our subscriptions to be Tate members because we feel good about supporting an institution that benefits the wider public. It is difficult for us, however, to feel good about our support when we also feel that by so doing we are legitimising the activities of BP. By helping BP to create a ‘social licence to operate’ through its sponsorship programme, Tate is playing an active role in BP’s global environmental and human rights controversies and in accelerating the climate crisis.

In 2012 alone we have seen:

  • Approval for a $12 billion expansion of BP’s LNG Plant in Tangguh, West Papua, where indigenous communities resist both Indonesia’s illegal occupation and the plant itself.
  • A renewal of the deal BP originally made with Gaddafi to drill 17 wells in Libya, both deepwater and onshore, in an area larger than Switzerland in the coming year.
  • The spilling of thousands of gallons of freeze protection fluids, seawater and crude oil by BP on the North Slope of its oil field in Alaska.
  • A fine of $80,000 to BP for safety violations at its Cherry Point refinery in Washington State,
  •  A fine to BP of $210,000 for failing surprise spill-containment inspections at a Maryland refined product terminal
  • A fine to BP of $5.2 million for submitting false or misleading reports on energy production on Colorado tribal lands.

In addition, BP continues to expand its tar sands operations in Canada and now has a 20% stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft which has its own appalling environmental record. BP continues to face controversy in the USA over the compensation being paid to Gulf Coast communities. Recent testing has indicated that the Macondo well has yet to be adequately capped with continued risk to marine ecosystems.

Some of us have approached Tate staff before and voiced these concerns. When one of us approached Nicholas Serota at an event and tried to speak about this, our concerns were dismissed with the response that we had taken a bus to the event, we too had used petrol and were not therefore in a position to speak on this subject. All of us live in a society that is dependent on oil products and we recognise that personal consumption has a role to play in addressing the issue of emission levels. Many of us are taking measures in our personal lives to try to address this. There is a fundamental difference, however, between our responsibility as individual consumers, the choices we have available to us, and the institutional power and culpability of a company like BP – the fourth largest in the world. As individuals we don’t have the power to lobby, advertise and influence ‘democratic process’ in the way that BP has done. We as Tate members are concerned about institutional relationships between oil companies and governments, and the role that Tate plays in smoothing the edges of BP’s frayed reputation and making it a more acceptable company with which to do business.

The argument invalidating us as individual oil consumers may provide Tate with a convenient means of side-stepping the awkward position it finds itself in, but what Nicholas Serota was effectively saying is that people who use oil can’t have a voice on vital issues of the day such as climate change, energy use and the human rights abuses of multinational corporations, and we are sure that Tate wouldn’t want to place such restrictions on people’s voices. With that in mind, we’d like to ask the Tate Members Council the following questions:

  • Has the Council discussed the issue of BP sponsorship and, if so, what were the outcomes of those discussions?
  • Has the Council represented to Tate the fact that many members have been vocal in criticising BP sponsorship and were among the 8,600 signatories to the petition presented to the 2011 Tate Members AGM? Similarly. the recent Change.org petition was started by a Tate Member calling on Tate to accept The Gift as part of its permanent collection.
  • Has the Council sought to discover how much sponsorship BP is giving Tate so that a more open discussion can take place about finding alternative sources of funding?
  • Will the Council engage with concerned members about the controversy of BP sponsorship of Tate and provide a public forum for this debate to take place?

We look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Signed – 15 Tate Members (names and addresses were given in the letters to the council members)