Friday 6 December 2013

A number of fee-paying Tate Members will tonight publicly resign at the Members AGM at Tate Britain over the on-going controversy about the sponsorship relationship with oil giant BP.

The resignations come after a larger group of Tate members attempted to raise the issue at the AGM last year, and sent letters to the Member’s Council, but were rebuffed by the council who took five months to respond to say that they were unable to engage with the members’ concerns.

Tate receives approximately £5 million a year through its membership scheme – the largest such scheme in Europe. At the end of 2011, BP announced a £10 million sponsorship scheme for four arts institutions over five years, which would average out at £500,000 a year – a tenth of the membership revenue.

One of the statements from Jamie Kelsey Fry and Sunniva Taylor, explains that:

“We cannot any longer justify to ourselves being members of an organisation which is in bed with BP – a company whose very business model is reliant on destroying the climate, and thus life on earth as we know it.”

(The full statement can be read below.)

A separate statement from ex-employee at Tate Bridget McKenzie says that:

“The fifth assessment report of the International Panel on Climate Change was released in October, It told us that human-caused climate change will likely cause sea levels to rise by 3 feet within this century, wiping out many coastal and estuary cities. This rising threatens all four Tates, located as they are on coasts and estuaries…. It may be that when consciousness builds of oil companies’ role in catastrophic climate change, and as the sea rises, fewer people will want or be able to visit Tate, whether or not it is offering new facilities or collections.”

A letter that was sent earlier in the year to Tate Membership services by Peter Butcher reads:

“I contacted my bank earlier today to cancel the Direct Debit for my Tate Membership. This decision is not related to the quality of the services provided to members. It relates to my continued concerns about the support the Tate receives from British Petroleum.”

The resignations are taking place just two weeks after 50 members of the art collective Liberate Tate performed “Parts Per Million” at the Tate Britain reopening, using the chronology of the “BP Walk Through British Art” to highlight the rise in carbon emissions from the industrial revolution to present day. According to peer-reviewed research released last month BP is solely responsible for almost 2.5% of global historic greenhouse gas emissions, making it the third most responsible company for causing climate change in the whole world.

Kevin Smith from oil-watchdog Platform said:

“The controversy over Tate’s relationship with BP is not only affecting Tate’s brand, it’s now provoking fee-paying members to resign. Now is the time for Tate to be arranging an alternative to BP sponsorship that doesn’t provoke such revulsion amongst its gallery-goers.”

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The 55th Annual General Meeting of Tate Members will take place on Friday 6 December at 18.45 in the Grand Saloon at Tate Britain.

Statement from Jamie Kelsey Fry and Sunniva Taylor

I am Sunniva, and this is Jamie, and we are currently Tate members. We have both been so for quite a while. However, we’re here today to resign our membership. Why? Because we cannot any longer justify to ourselves being members of an organisation which is in bed with BP – a company whose very business model is reliant on destroying the climate, and thus life on earth as we know it.

This gallery and others in the Tate portfolio is sponsored by BP. You cannot avoid the BP logo whichever way you turn. In Tate Britain, after the re-launch last week this is particularly striking, as you may well have noticed on your way in this evening. In displaying the BP brand so prominently Tate is normalising it in the public consciousness – giving it social credibility, a sparkly sheen – by associating the logo with art, aesthetics and creativity.

But BP stands for destruction, not creation. Its core business model is exploring for and extracting fossil fuels, especially oil. According to recent peer-reviewed research last month BP is solely responsible for almost 2.5% of global historic greenhouse gas emissions, making it the third most responsible company for causing climate change in the whole world.

It’s not just a question of historic responsibility. Although the International Energy Agency says we must leave two thirds of known reserves in the ground in order to stay within the limits of climate safety, BP continues to spend billions of pounds searching for new sources of oil and gas, which we cannot possibly burn. Climate scientists are in broad agreement of the need to stay below the level of 350 parts per million of atmospheric carbon to stabilise the climate.  But in the very week that the BP Walk Through British Art was opened in May, we passed 400 parts per million.

Friends, there is nothing controversial or radical about what we are saying. These are the words of scientists and economists. What is controversial is Tate’s refusal to acknowledge the reality of this situation. What is radical is Tate being complicit with companies whose fundamental business model is based on the destruction of a safe and stable climate on this planet.

Quitting Tate membership isn’t a decision that we are making lightly. We both love art, and for both of us coming to the Tate has been an important part of our social and cultural lives in London. I remember lying on my back watching the beauty of the created sun setting in the Turbine Hall – reflecting on the rhythms of the earth and the power of the cycles in which we live; the smallness of myself and the bigness of the world; human ingenuity and creativity – and how in one piece of art I was being connected to all of that. But in taking sponsorship from BP, Tate is pulling a veil across just how catastrophic climate change is, and who is responsible. And we find that as members we have no power to change this practice.

Last year we wrote to the Tate Members council alongside 15 other members to air our serious concerns about BP sponsorship and came to the AGM to ask questions. We understand that our questions were also considered by the Tate Members Council at their last meeting. After five months we received a letter in which we were told that the Council itself could not make any representation on our behalf and that therefore we needed to put our objections to the Trustees themselves.

It’s a disappointment to us that while we were looking for genuine engagement on a controversial issue that many members have raised, we seem to have received a message of “just pay your fees and don’t ask questions.” This position isn’t possible for us, which is also why we are resigning. We will continue to loudly object to Tate’s endorsement of the destruction of our climate, but we will do so as visitors, and perhaps by engaging with the many groups creating artistic interventions that are dramatically problematizing this ongoing arrangement with BP.

Please, fellow members we urge you to consider what you are a part of. We are not alone in holding these concerns. Last year Tate said in a reply to a freedom of information request that it had received more representations raising concerns about BP’s sponsorship than any other issue since the oil company became linked to the gallery in 1990 while almost 10,000 members and visitors signed a petition calling for the end of BP sponsorship. We hope that the damage that Tate is doing its international brand through this long-standing association with one of the world’s most controversial companies isn’t irrevocable. We hope to return one day to being members when the Tate really does live up to its stated vision to ‘demonstrate leadership in response to climate change.’

Perhaps if the Tate makes this forward focused and creative step many others currently put off by the BP brand will be convinced enough to do the same.