Tate fears that “protests might intensify” over BP sponsorship

Press Release 19 Sep 2014 admin
Children taking part in Liberate Tate’s “Hidden Figures” performance in Tate Modern. Photo: Hugh Warwick

Richard Aydon, the Tate head of legal yesterday admitted in a tribunal that Tate fears that “protests might intensify” as a result of potential revelations about its controversial sponsorship relationship with BP.

The statement was made when Aydon was acting as a witness before the Information Tribunal where Tate was appealing against a March ruling that it was breaking information law on a number of counts by not revealing internal discussions on the decision to renew BP sponsorship in the face of public outcry.

One of the exemptions that Tate has attempted to exercise under information law to justify its secrecy is Section 38, which relates to information is likely to endanger physical or mental health. While being cross examined, Aydon said in relation to the public opposition to BP sponsorship that, “one might discern a trend that protests might intensify.”

Under cross examination, Aydon was confronted with evidence that the most recent performance protests at Tate had included children playing underneath a large black square of material in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, and performers whispering a transcript from the BP trial in the gallery spaces. It was suggested that such a trend of  confrontational protests intensifying wasn’t substantiated, in agreement with Information Commissioners ruling in March that use of Section 38 wasn’t justified.

The tribunal also questioned the use of Tate Chair of Trustees John Browne to authorize a particular exemption. Tate needed a “qualified person” to justify Section 36 of the Information Act in order to not reveal information. Aydon was questioned as to whether or not their was a conflict of interest in using John Browne, who used to be the CEO of BP for more than ten years and a shareholder in BP up  until last year, to authorize such a FOI decision that was directly involved with BP. Aydon admitted that they had discussed the possibility of this being a problem, but they had consulted with John Browne who had assured them that he could act in that capacity. The judge asked Tate to provide evidence that there was authorization for John Browne to be acting in this capacity

Brendan Montague, director of Request Initiative, said:

“Children enjoying performance art in the turbine hall to demonstrate the keen public interest in publishing the amount of money BP donated to Tate very evidently does not represent a danger to anyone. And yet the fact BP appears to be part of public life by sponsoring our institutions allows them a social licence to pollute – endangering the future of those very same children.

He added: “We are meant to be reassured that Tate has carefully considered the public interest. Yet when asked their legal team could not provide the tribunal with evidence that their chairman Lord Browne had been authorised to act as a “qualified person” in deciding not to disclose information. I was not assured to learn Lord Browne had considered whether his owning BP shares meant there was a conflict of interest in overseeing the sponsorship deal.”

While Tate were appealing a number of rulings that the Information Commissioner had made in March that they need to remove redactions, the lawyers acting for Platform and Request Initiative were challenging only one item of information – the amount of money that Tate had been receiving from BP up until 2012.

Tate had been arguing that revealing the amount of money would be prejudicial to its commercial interests, because other companies would use the information to negotiate deals that wouldn’t benefit Tate as much. The argument was dramatically undermined when a whole series of examples were provided where other arts institutions had disclosed or publicised the sums of money involved in various sponsorship deals, including instances of two out of the four arts institutions grouped along with Tate receiving joint sponsorship from BP, disclosing information about previous sponsorship deals. Aydon was asked to consider the example of sponsorship of Tate Turbine Hall installations. After the sums of money of Unilever’s longstanding sponsorship deal had been promoted, it was announced that the new deal with Hyundai was the “largest” yet. Knowledge of the previous sponsorship sums had not appeared to prevent Tate from obtaining an even more profitable sponsorship deal with Hyundai.

Kevin Smith, an oil sponsorship campaigner from Platform said:

“We’ve shown that a whole series of arts institutions have disclosed how much money they’ve received through sponsorship deals, including other institutions getting money from BP, so there’s no real reason for Tate to be so secretive. There’s a clear public interest in knowing exactly how much money Tate is getting from BP. Gallery-goers want to know if the amount of money involved justifies Tate’s complicity with one of the companies most responsible for destroying a stable climate for generations to come.”

Rosa Curling, a lawyer from the solicitors Leigh Day representing the case said:

“It is clearly in the public interest that Tate discloses the amount of money it has received from BP. The fact BP has not consented to this information being revealed should not discourage Tate from doing the right thing. They should not be held hostage by their corporate sponsors in this way. Tate has a very clear ethical policy which requires them to take decisions openly and transparently. Despite this the Tate has refused to confirm how much money it has received from BP and has refused to allow the reasoning for its decision to continue its relationship with BP to be made public.

“Our clients now hope the Tribunal will intervene and force them to disclose this information without further delay. Only then can a proper debate to take place between Tate and those who oppose its acceptance of BP money, on an even, just basis, with all relevant information being known by both sides.”

In the afternoon the closed session with Tate’s lawyers, the Information Commissioner’s lawyers and the tribunal members over ran so that the closing summaries form the lawyers will be submitted in a written form at a later date, and then the tribunal will make a written ruling following that.

For more information/comment, contact [email protected]


1) Publicity around previous sponsorship deals

In response to a 2008 FOIA request, the Natural Portrait Gallery disclosed that BP had donated £1.25m in sponsorship between 2003 and 2008; it disclosed this information within a month of the initial request.

The Science Museum, in response to a 2009 FOIA request about the museum’s sponsorship from BP and Shell, revealed the amounts donated for specific projects.

The Natural History Museum has responded to three FOIA requests in relation to sponsorship. It disclosed that it received £750,000 over two years from Shell for the Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. It also disclosed that it received £250,000 from Anglo American in 2006 for development of the Darwin Centre. Finally, it disclosed that BP (at the time of the request) were corporate members and had paid £27,000 for the financial year 2008/09

The amount that Unilever sponsored the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall commissions has been publicly available throughout the 12-year relationship. The agreement shows the incremental price increase through the sponsorship period:

– £1.25m 2000 – 2004 (£250,000 annual sum) through to £2.16m for 2008 – 2012 (£432,000 annual sum)

Tate Modern announces largest ever sponsorship deal for Turbine Hall

2) The legal challenge to Tate’s use of information law has been brought by Request Initiative working with Platfom. Their legal team consists of Rosa Curling, a solicitor from Leigh Day and the barrister Julianne Morrison from Monckton Chambers.

Platform is an NGO that combines art, research and education in projects that are often aimed at addressing the environmental and human rights abuses of the oil industry. You can find out more about its long-running campaign against oil sponsorship of the arts here.

Request Initiative is a Community Interest Company that uses information law in the public interest. It works on behalf of NGOs and charities who publish our disclosures in their research and the media

Leigh Day is a specialist law firm with some of the country’s leading personal injury, product liability, clinical negligence, employment and discrimination, international and human rights teams.

3) The Information Commissioner’s ruling from March 2014 can be found here

Focus Areas