New report ‘Picture This’ on the BP Portrait Award – extract on National Portrait Gallery

25 Jun 2014 jane

Our new report Picture This – A Portrait of 25 years of BP sponsorship is in 5 parts. PictureThis_PrintReady_Cover_web

Each part addresses a different aspect of the issue, and should cause deep concern in any institution’s corporate sponsorship department that wants to operate ethically. Even though its publication is triggered by the 2014 BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), London, the research is completely relevant to any BP-sponsored institution in any sector – sports, arts, education, academic research.

Today we feature the intro on the National Portrait Gallery Platform looks at the NPG as a case study, but any institution could find this useful. It finds that the NPG has, in its own history, a precedent for getting out of sponsorship relations that are no longer desirable. It encourages the NPG to recover its boldness and make the move away from oil sponsorship.  SEE BELOW FOR EXTRACT.


Introduction – National Portrait Gallery

How bad does a company have to be before an arts organisation refuses to be associated with it or take its money? How much outcry does a sponsor’s primary business have to provoke before a line is drawn? What kind of critique should send alarm signals up and down the corridors of the corporate sponsorship department of any BP-sponsored arts organisation?
It seems that some arts organisations can bear a great deal.
Gallus Gallus with Still Life and Presidents, by Stuart Pearson Wright. Winner BP Portrait Award 2001
Gallus Gallus with Still Life and Presidents, by Stuart Pearson Wright. Winner BP Portrait Award 2001
Controversial oil company BP has sponsored the National Portrait Gallery’s (NPG) prestigious Portrait Award since 1989. 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of this relationship which BP and the NPG appear proud to celebrate.i By bearing BP’s logo the NPG provide the company with a stamp of approval. But over the past 25 years, BP’s reputation has undergone a radical shift: from a national treasure in the post-war years, to thrusting global player under CEO John Browne, to stained operator whose cost-cutting on safety allowed the disaster of the Deepwater Horizon blowout. But this is only the surface story. BP’s terrible record goes back and back.
It’s not just about the spills and the impacts on fenceline communities. As we see from the opening quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, fossil fuel companies and the enormous political and economic power they wield are increasingly recognized as possibly the biggest obstacle in our transition to a low carbon society. In 2013, peer-reviewed research revealed that BP was the company that was third most responsible for the entirety of greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawn of the industrial revolution. The research showed that BP had been responsible for 38.84 giga-tonnes of CO2e – which is 2.47% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions since 1750.ii
This record provides the National Portrait Gallery with serious grounds for extracting itself from this increasingly difficult relationship. […]
Returning to the question of how bad a company has to be… what more does BP have to do to become unacceptable?
Let’s say that this is a hot topic at board level – the current level of debate around BP sponsorship suggests it’s likely to be so. Let’s then imagine that there are those at senior management level within the NPG who would like to make a change – what’s stopping the gallery from moving away from endorsing BP? One challenge is that the NPG’s deal is only part of a five-year BP sponsorship with three other major cultural institutions – Royal Opera House, Tate, and British Museum. That’s a tight quartet with the NPG being the smallest institution. However, this deal comes up for renewal in 2016 providing perhaps an opportunity to get out. Another factor is the close friendships that exist between the Directors of the four organisations and former BP CEO Lord John Browne, patron of the arts, and Chair of Tate’s Trustees, and CEO of Cuadrilla Resources – a major fracking company.iv Perhaps awkward, diplomatic implications are the reason. Or is it the money that keeps these major cultural institutions tied to the oil industry? While the institutions remain tight lipped about how much money they’re getting, our research based on the available information suggests that the sums of money involved are nowhere near as significant as you might have thought.v
Within the NPG’s own history there is a precedent for cleaning up sponsorship ethics. In 1988, the NPG ended its Portrait Award relationship with tobacco company John Player that had started in 1980. Chin-Tao Wu tells the story of NPG’s changing attitudes to this deal, and suggests that its ending signified that ‘the heyday of tobacco arts advertising was now over, and a recognition that the long and hard campaign against tobacco advertising had finally taken its toll.’vi
This was bold – it was eleven years before the Labour Party drafted a proposal to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship. Could it be that the National Portrait Gallery will once again set the agenda for the arts and make the move away from Big Oil? Platform has been working with arts institutions to help them develop ethical funding policies that are in line with their organisational values,vii but we’ve yet to see an outfit the size of the NPG take a bold and ethical stance on oil money. This publication seeks to provide the NPG and all arts organisations, artists and audiences involved with BP and the fossil fuel industry with well-founded evidence to help plan for and support that move.



i BP Portrait Award 2014,

ii ‘Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions.’ Guardian, 20 November 2013.

iii Bridge the Gulf Project,

iv Blog – How John Browne, BP, and the Old Boys’ Network keep the arts well-oiled,

v ‘Culture Clash – Arts & Oil Money,’ Platform, 26 April 2014.

vi p167, in Chin-Tao Wu, ‘Privatising Culture, Corporate Art Intervention since the 80s’, Verso 2003

vii Arts and Ethical Fundraising Policies – you know they make sense,’ Platform blog, 19 March 2014.

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