Open letter: BP can’t buy our silence

2 Aug 2016 anna

Today’s Times has published an open letter from Mark Rylance, Naomi Klein, Nnimmo Bassey, Matthew Herbert, and 215 artists, actors, arts managers, musicians, frontline activists, campaigners, and scientists, arguing:

We cannot afford another five years of BP-branded culture.

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Last Thursday BP announced the renewal of its flagship sponsorship programme. Its partners, this time: British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Opera House, and Royal Shakespeare Company.

Oil sponsorship is meant to buy artists’ silence and audiences’ approval, and silence the people who live on the frontlines of oil extraction and climate change. Well, this letter is the refusal of silence. More and more artists, culture professionals and academics are no longer happy standing by while BP brands the UK’s biggest museums and theatres for a pittance. BP is wrecking the climate and wrecking lives, from the Gulf of Mexico to West Papua, and deserves to be cast out of our culture. As Clayton Thomas-Muller says:

By signing this new deal with BP, the British Museum is helping the oil company drill more wells and build more pipelines – poisoning Indigenous communities and destroying our planet’s future. With public culture supporting fossil fuel colonialism, it’s up to frontline struggles to keep the oil in the soil.

Among the signatories: Mark Rylance (yes, the BFG), writer and activist Naomi Klein, Nigerian poet and campaigner Nnimmo Bassey, environmentalists Jonathon Porritt and Bill McKibben, composer Matthew Herbert, artist Conrad Atkinson, climate science historian Naomi Oreskes, and West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda. Also supporting the letter are the directors of a number of arts organisations: from the Gate theatre to Colchester Arts Centre, from Artsadmin to the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World.

So: we cannot stay silent. This battle is not over yet. The new deals aren’t due to formally begin until 2018, so there’s still time for institutions to change their minds – or indeed, to end their funding contracts partway through, as happened at the National Gallery with an arms company a few years ago. It’s still possible for some or all of these institutions to follow in the footsteps of Tate and the Edinburgh International Festival.


This spring it was announced that Tate’s sponsorship would not be renewed, due to a “challenging business environment”. We know what that phrase really means: the thousands of art lovers, frontline activists, Liberate Tate performers, Deadline Festival participants, and cultural figures who spoke out, created art interventions, and wrote to Tate to encourage it to drop BP.

Let’s get on with it.

Here is what you can do:

If you make artwork (of any kind), or work in the cultural sector, sign up to the Fossil Funds Free commitment – refuse oil company branding for your own work.

If you would like to get more involved in creating interventions against oil sponsorship in the UK, drop us a line: both Platform and others in the Art Not Oil coalition have plans afoot.

You can write to the British MuseumNational Portrait GalleryRoyal Opera House, or Royal Shakespeare Company directly. Let us know what response you get!

Here is the letter text in full:

Re: Another five years of BP-branded culture

BP’s announcement of five-year sponsorship deals with the British Museum, Royal Opera House, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Shakespeare Company is outdated and unacceptable. 

We cannot afford another five years of BP-branded culture. We believe museums, theatres and galleries are public institutions that must play a positive role in taking urgent climate action and defending human rights. If the world is to avoid rapid and devastating climate change in the coming decades, most of the oil on BP’s books cannot be burned. Meanwhile, the company continues acting in defiance of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and harming lives every day – despite community resistance from the Gulf Coast to West Papua to Australia.

We know now that BP sponsorship comes with strings attached. A recent report revealed how BP leant on the British Museum to hold events timed with BP’s bid for drilling licenses in Mexico, and how the museum checked in with BP on curatorial decisions. 

Branding a major museum or theatre has become cheaper for BP (just £375,000 a year for each institution). This is less than the cost of a short billboard campaign. Recent surveys show that a majority of Londoners, and the British Museum’s own staff, are against BP sponsorship. These institutions’ decisions are badly out of step with the mood of their own staff and audiences. BP is not welcome to use our culture to promote its destructive business – these deals must be cancelled.

Full signatory list:

Mark Rylance, Oscar-winning actor and director

Conrad Atkinson, artist, Emeritus Professor, University of California

Naomi Klein, author and activist

Professor Naomi Oreskes, historian of climate science, Harvard University

Ezra Miller, actor

Professor Richard Sandell, Professor of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

Cherri Foytlin, Gulf Coast resident, Bold Louisiana and Life Support Project

Matthew Herbert, composer

Bill McKibben, author and environmentalist

Clayton Thomas-Müller, Mathais Colomb Cree Nation, Stop it at the Source Campaigner,

Jonathon Porritt, environmentalist

Maja S.K. Ratkje, composer

Benny Wenda, West Papuan independence leader, Free West Papua campaign

Dr Jeremy Leggett, Founding director, Solarcentury

Nnimmo Bassey, director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) 2010

John Sauven, director, Greenpeace UK

Dr David McCoy, director, Medact

Bunna Lawrie, Mirning Elder-Whale Songman, Nullarbor/Great Australian Bight

Judith Knight, director, ArtsAdmin

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Lubicon Cree First Nation, campaigner, Greenpeace Canada

Gill Lloyd, director, ArtsAdmin

Baroness Jenny Jones, London Assembly Member

Rhodri Davies, musician

Dr Tony Birch, author, Bruce McGuinness Research Fellow, Moondani Balluk Academic Unit, Victoria University

Ed McKeon, director, Third Ear Music

Gilberto Torres Martinez, Colombian trade union leader, victim of kidnapping by paramilitary groups backed by BP

Julie Ward MEP, MEP for the Labour Party

Prof Malcolm Miles, Professor of Cultural Theory, Plymouth University

John Metcalfe, musician

Dawn King, Award-winning playwright and screenwriter

Clara Paillard, President, PCS Union Culture Sector

May Boeve, executive director,

Andrew Simms, author

Derrick Evans, Turkey Creek Community Initiatives, Mississippi

Kelly Lovelady, artistic director, Ruthless Jabiru

Lyndon Schneiders, national campaign director, Wilderness Society

Rodney Kelly, Aboriginal activist

Hannah Lawson, PCS Union Chair, National Museum Wales

Filipa Bragança, actor

Clive Adams, director, Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World

Amanda Starbuck, climate and energy program director, Rainforest Action Network

Jim Thatcher, Art Against Blacklisting

Wallace Heim, writer

Charlotte Webster, founder & director, Human Nature Show Ltd

Megan Henwood, musician

Kay Michael, artistic director, Empty Deck Theatre

Ben Twist, director, Creative Carbon Scotland

Dr Matt Lodder, Lecturer in Contemporary Art, University of Essex

Dr Chris Fairless, Meteorologist and Climate Scientist

Peter Owen, director, Wilderness Society South Australia

Sophie Gainsley, illustrator and artist

David Somervell, Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, University of Edinburgh

Trevor MacFarlane, Cultural affairs manager, European Parliament (Labour Party, S&D)

CJ Mitchell, Co-director, Live Art Development Agency

Dr Gary Anderson, Senior Lecturer in Drama, Liverpool Hope University

Lois Keidan, Co-director, Live Art Development Agency

Kieran Hurley, Playwright

Candy Udwin, PCS Union, National Gallery

Annet Henneman, director, Teatro di Nascosto – Hidden Theatre

Paula Benson, artistic director, Get Over It Productions

Anthony Roberts, director, Colchester Arts Centre

Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive director, Scientists for Global Responsibility

Dr Andy Fugard, UCL

Founding Member, Association for Psychosocial Studies

 Leah Borromeo, Disobedient Films

Professor Neil Cummings, University of the Arts London

Tom Lebert, Senior Programme Officer: Resources and Conflict Programme, War on Want

Louise M. Fitzgerald, Fossil Free Berlin

Dr Anna Bull, researcher, Kings College London

Lola Perrin, composer and Pianist

Paul Whitty, composer

Lucy Frears, Associate Lecturer, Falmouth University

Claire James, Campaign Against Climate Change

Dr Chris Garrard, composer and Campaigner

Darragh Martin, Children’s Book writer

Beth Johnson, Designer

Ben Comeau, Pianist and composer

Ragnhild Freng Dale, Campaigner and performer

Lucy Patterson, composer and Pianist

Ellen Victoria Timothy, Singer and musician

Lucy Ellinson, actor

 Dr Paula Serafini, arts educator

Mel Evans, author, artist

Jim Telford, composer and researcher

 Dan Jeffries, composer

Dr Jonathan Oppenheim, UCL

Dr Geoffrey J Supran, Harvard University

Mieke Bal, Cultural critic, video artist

David Cross, artist, Reader, UAL

Amanda Grimm, Former professional ballet dancer

Claire Robertson, Campaigner

Paul Burgess , Theatre designer and director

Karen Bates, artist and campaigner

Hugh Chapman, artist and campaigner

Dominic Latham, director, MinuteWorks design studio

James Marriott, artist, Platform

Jane Lawson, artist

Sai Murray, Poet

Beka Economopoulos, Co-founder, The Natural History Museum

Jason Jones, Co-founder, Not An Alternative

Dr Alice Bell, Campaigner and science writer

James Brady, artist and curator

Emily Johns, Visual artist

Theresa Easton, artist

Rebecca Beinart, artist and educator

Ruth Potts, artist, Bread, Print & Roses

Molly Conisbee, artist, Bread, Print & Roses

Tim Jeeves, artist

Velenzia Spearpoint, actor & Theatre Maker, Co-founder Get Over It Productions

Dr Hamza Hamouchene, Algeria Solidarity Campaign

Emma Cameron, Stage manager

Professor Peter Newell, University of Sussex

Fay Roberts, poet and musician

Richard Tyrone Jones, performance poet, writer and comedian

Brian Briggs, musician

Harry Giles, poet, trustee, The Forest (SCIO)

Dan Barnard, lead artist, FanSHEN

Luke Lewis, composer

Ben Bailes, Lighting designer

Sophie Walker, Spoken word poet

Ruth Ben-Tovim, Encounters Arts

Kate Joyce, creative writing tutor

Liz Hodgson, Singer

Isa Suarez, composer

Jess Worth, writer and performer, BP or not BP?

Bridget McKenzie, Educator and Consultant, Flow UK

Jo Tyabji, performer and director, Ivo Theatre

Martin Bassant, Retired deputy headteacher

Miranda Shaw, Violin teacher

George Roberts, Poet

Angie Dight, artist

Andrew Blackwool, arts manager

Louise Allan, arts manager

Danny Chivers, Performance poet and author

Mika Minio-Paluello, author, campaigner, Platform

Hanna Thomas, Campaigner, SumOfUs

Beth Rice, PhD Science researcher

Drew Pearce, PhD Science researcher

Thomas Frank, artist and Activist

Athena Corcoran-Tadd, composer

David Shaw, musician and teacher

Francesca Shaw, musician, composer and writer

Karen Savage, Life Support Project

Mark Jones, artist

Imani Jacqueline Brown, artist

Rosemary Lee, artist

Rachael Taylor, artist

Phoebe Demeger, Activist and writer

Christopher Kelly, Designer

Rhiannon Kelly, performer

Diana Morant, Human rights campaigner

Sian Rees, PhD researcher, Goldsmiths College

Georgia Brown, artist

Simona Azurduy, Expression inka

Emiliana Bolivar, London Latinxs

Juana Zapata, Movimiento Jaguar Despierto

Frantz, Wretched of the Earth

Liam Barrington-Bush, London Mining Network

Jimena Pardo, artist

Charlie Phillips, filmmaker

Anne-Marie Culhane, artist and community activist

Jules Lowe, artist

Hasse Farmen, musician

Ellie Harrison, artist

Miranda Pennell, filmmaker

Drager Meurtant, artist

Dr Michael Hrebeniak, University of Cambridge

Daisy Anna Lees, Arts La’olam

Eleni Papaioannou, artist

Harry Mann, Poet

Lizzie Homersham, writer

Ingrid Kleiva Møller, sponsorship coordinator, Øya Festival

Patrick Jones, artist

Meg Ulman, artist

Alex Hetherington, curator and visual artist

Dr Alison Klevnäs, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University

Johanna Mitterhofer, researcher

Emma Frankland, artist

Khadiza Shahid, social activist

Stefan Szczelkun, artist

Rafael S Guillén , UK Zapatista Movement

Livvy Murdoch, arts educator

Anders Lustgarden, Playwright

Andrew Day, Earth Quaker Action UK

Kristen Irving, Poet and Publisher

Jon Stone, Poet and Publisher

Steve Lyons, artist and art historian, Not An Alternative

Jane Trowell, arts educator, Platform

Sheila Menon, Freelance Film Maker

Matthew Chester, biologist

Phil England, Co-founder, Resonance FM

Anna Lau, Poet

Lorraine Leeson, artist

Kate Honey, composer

Isidora Markovic, artist

María Gómez, Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group

Juan Pérez, Kiptik (Bristol)

José Hernández, London Mexico Solidarity

Guadalupe Fernández, Manchester Zapatista Collective

Camilo Rodríguez, Meso-America Solidarity Action Liverpool

Ernesto Moctezuma, UK Zapatista Education, Culture and Communication team

Marcos Juárez, UK Zapatista Translation Service

Iván Maldonaldo, Zapatista Solidarity Group

Jacob Thompson-Bell, composer

Lázaro Cárdenas, H.I.J.O.S. México

Jessica Bell, artist

Steve Larkin, Poet

Joanna Kalm, artist

Bridget Lappin, artist

Daniel Persson, artist

Isa Fremeaux, artist, Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination

John Jordan, artist, Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination

Kevin Smith, Art Not Oil Coalition

Dr Benjamin Franta, associate, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Laura Ferriman

theatrical costumier

Hannah Davey, Liberate Tate

Holly Dove, musician and writer

Christopher Haydon, artistic director, Gate Theatre

Stephen Pritchard, Dot To Dot Active Arts



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