Photo: Charles Glover

Pressure mounts on Trustees to reject extension of relationship with BP as more than  8,000 Tate Members and visitors sign open letter calling on the art museum to break links with oil company

5 December 2011 – For Immediate Release

The decision about whether or not to renew an increasingly controversial sponsorship contract with oil giant BP is due to be made “soon” according to comments made by Tate Director Nicholas Serota at the Tate Members AGM Friday (2 December).

The comments were made in response to an open letter delivered to Nicholas Serota at the Members AGM signed by over 8,000 Tate Members and visitors, demanding that Tate disengage from BP as a sponsor due to the devastating impacts BP has around the world. The Open Letter has been organised by a coalition of organisations including Liberate Tate, Platform and Art Not Oil [1].

In the text of the letter, signatories underline that they have “enormous respect for the cultural contribution that Tate makes to the world”, but are also “greatly concerned by the damage being caused by BP to ecosystems, communities and the climate”. [2]

Nicholas Serota said that: “The Trustees have recognised that BP has supported the gallery over a 20 year period. They have been in a partnership with BP over that period and have decided not to withdraw from that partnership in the belief that the good that has been done through the money that has come from BP for the gallery, and for the gallery’s public, has been very profound. They are in the process of whether or not to extend the relationship. All I can really say today is that the views that you have registered will be conveyed to the Trustees. It is a decision that is going to be taken quite soon,” and added that “The Trustees will have a very difficult decision to make.” [3]

The presentation of the petition came at the end of another difficult week for Tate-BP relations. On Monday (28 November) a national newspaper revealed Tate Trustee Patrick Brill has branded the company as a “disgrace” [4] and on Tuesday (29 November) a new publication, Not if But when: Culture Beyond Oil was launched, featuring a number of people from the arts speaking out against the sponsorship link. [5]

That a significant and growing number of Tate members and visitors are adding their voices to those of artists with national and international standing for Tate to cut ties with the oil company is a clear demonstration that Tate’s Board and senior management now need to urgently review the relationship with BP.

Chris Sands of Liberate Tate said: “Tate can no longer respond by simply stating that BP is an important sponsor of the arts. Tate’s visiting public and its own Members are saying in large numbers that maintaining a relationship with an oil company like BP is harming both the reputation of Tate and the experience of enjoying great art in a public gallery.”

Mel Evans of Platform said: “When Tate Trustees make the decision about whether or not to renew BP sponsorship, they need to take into account how much the context has changed in the last two decades since the sponsorship began. We know that climate change is the biggest threat we have ever faced on a global level, and we know that oil companies like BP are chaining us to a dangerously outdated energy model while also actively lobbying to undermine low-carbon legislation. Tate needs to find sponsors that are in keeping with its commitment to sustainability and the human rights agenda.”

Note to editors:

[1] Liberate Tate (www.liberatetate.org) is an art collective exploring the role of creative intervention in social change dedicated to taking creative disobedience against Tate until it drops its oil company funding. Contact: liberatetate@gmail.com www.twitter.com/liberatetate.

Platform (www.platformlondon.org) is an arts and research organisation bringing together environmentalists, artists, human rights campaigners, educationalists and community activists to create innovative projects driven by the need for social and environmental justice. Contact: info@platformlondon.org www.twitter.com/PlatformLondon.

Art Not Oil (www.artnotoil.org.uk) encourages artists – and would-be artists – to create work that explores the damage that companies like BP and Shell are doing to the planet, and the role art can play in counteracting that damage. Contact info@artnotoil.org.uk.

[2] The full text of the Open Letter to Nicholas Serota about BP (online here http://liberatetate.wordpress.com/open-letter-to-nicholas-serota/) is:

Dear Nicholas Serota,

I am writing to you as someone who has enormous respect for the cultural contribution that Tate makes to the world, and also as someone who is greatly concerned by the damage being caused by BP to ecosystems, communities and the climate. Apart from the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico spill, BP is also expanding into devastating tar sands extraction in Canada, is drilling in risky regions in the Arctic and as a company is responsible for more carbon emissions than the UK itself. There is a contradiction in Tate being committed to climate action while also being heavily associated to a company whose business model is binding us to a catastrophically dangerous future and outdated energy model. This association is damaging to Tate’s reputation and its relationship with an increasingly climate-conscious general public. It is for these reasons that I call on Tate to: 1) Take the necessary steps to disengage from BP as a sponsor, and stop allowing Tate to be used to deflect attention away from the devastating impacts that BP has around the world. 2) As part of that process, and as a show of your commitment to the national public debate about ethics and sponsorship, to disclose the amount that BP donates to Tate, as has been the subject of Freedom of Information requests.

[3] Nicholas Serota’s full response at the Tate Members AGM 2011 was as follows: “You will not be surprised to learn that the whole question of the support from BP has exercised Trustees quite seriously over the past two years. Both the Trustees as a Board but also the Trustees through their Ethics Committee, which was instituted about four years ago, have looked very carefully at the question. They are aware, of course, that there are members of the audience, both here and also more widely, who have expressed real concern at the continuing support BP have been giving.

“The Trustees have recognised that BP has supported the gallery over a 20 year period. They have been in a partnership with BP over that period and have decided not to withdraw from that partnership in the belief that the good that has been done through the money that has come from BP for the gallery, and for the gallery’s public, has been very profound. They are in the process of whether or not to extend the relationship.

“All I can really say today is that the views that you have registered will be conveyed to the Trustees. It is a decision that is going to be taken quite soon. I will certainly register to the Trustees the point that you have made today and, indeed, the number of Members that have signed this petition.

“The Trustees will have a very difficult decision to make, I think, in terms of their responsibility as Trustees of the charity, to take monies that are offered to them from organisations that are continuing to act in a manner that is not in any way running against the laws of this country; that are basically a company that is continuing to act in a way that many other companies do in terms of producing oil, which probably many of the people in this room have used in order to come to this very event. But they nevertheless need to weigh all the considerations and it is not an easy choice, I think, for the Trustees to make.”

[4] See The Independent 28 November 2011: Tate trustee reignites BP row ahead of Turner Prize: Patrick Brill brands oil company “a disgrace”, as campaign groups call for end of sponsorship deal

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/tate-trustee-reignites-bp-row-ahead-of-turner-prize-6268886.html

[5] The latest example, adding to previous letters in national newspapers, is a new publication by Liberate Tate, Platform and Art Not Oil, ‘Not If But When: Culture Beyond Oil’, was launched on 29 November 2011 and includes a section dedicated to representing a range of artists’ concerns, including written statements, videos, music and drawings (available to read online here: http://blog.platformlondon.org/2011/11/27/read-online-now-not-if-but-when-culture-beyond-oil/ ).