The British Museum has ended its partnership with the fossil fuel company BP after 27 years, a move lauded by environmental activists as a victory. This marks a sharp withdrawal by BP from the British art world after decades of philanthropic ties with institutions including the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery.
The museum confirmed in a statement first reported by the Guardian that “there are no other contracts or agreements in effect between the museum and BP.” The latest five-year contract between the two parties expired in February, and in the preceding months, dozens of academics and museum workers called on the museum to use it as an opportunity for a meaningful divestment.
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In the new disclosures, obtained by attorneys acting for the environmentalist group Culture Unstained, the British Museum said that “certain terms” of the previous deal will remain in effect because it has a verbal agreement to allow BP exercise its “supporter benefits” through the end of the year. The disclosure did not specify what supporter benefits entail, though none relate to programming or museum projects.
ARTnews has reached out to BP for comment.
The British Museum’s BP sponsorship has been a perennial controversy among museum professionals, artists, and activists, with groups like BP or Not BP? leading a slew of protests at the museum over the past few years.
In 2021, dozens of academics and museum workers denounced London’s British Museum in an open letter for its resistance to ending the financial arrangement with BP. “Refusing further sponsorship from BP would send a strong signal that fossil fuel corporations—like tobacco and arms companies—are no longer welcome in cultural life,” the letter read. “By diminishing BP’s ‘social license to operate’, it would help to support our society’s transition away from fossil fuels.”
In 2016, the Tate museum network said it would no longer receive funding from BP, putting an end to its 26-year partnership, and in 2019, the National Galleries of Scotland stopped taking BP sponsorship for a recurring portraiture exhibition. In 2020, the Southbank Centre, a London arts complex that includes the Hayward Gallery, ended its relationship with Shell.