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Artists demand an end to oil sponsorship

The debate around oil sponsorship in culture peaked around this year’s BP Portrait Award.

Gary Hume, accompanied by Turner Prize winners Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Mark Wallinger, Gillian Wearing, Rachel Whiteread and other artists, wrote an open letter to Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery London, to demand the end of BP’s involvement in the Portrait Award.

The artists demanded three things:

  • To not renew the contract with BP, which expires in 2022 
  • To start looking for alternative funding for the Portrait Award
  • To immediately remove the BP representative from the judging panel.

The sponsorship with BP is now in its 30th year and the artists argue that ethical decisions have been made in the past. For example, ties have been cut with tobacco company John Player and the Sackler family which owns the opiateproducing pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma.

The BP Portrait Award is regarded as one of the most prestigious portrait painting competitions in the world with more than 40,000 entries from over 100 countries in its forty year’s history. The total prize fund is £74,000 and the first prize winner is rewarded with £35,000.

Earlier in June, Oscar-winning actor and playwright Mark Rylance left the Royal Shakespeare Company after 30 years because of its connection to BP. “I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesman or anyone who wilfully destroys the lives of others alive and unborn. Nor, I believe, would William Shakespeare,” he said.

The British Museum and The Royal Opera House are also in partnership with the oil giant.

BP or Not BP will be running a workshop at our conference

BP’s 30-year sponsorship of National Portrait Gallery to end

In a major win for the campaign against fossil fuel sponsorship, the National Portrait Gallery announced
in February 2022 that it was ending its partnership with BP after 30+ years of the oil and gas company
sponsoring the BP Portrait Award.

Bayryam Bayryamali, from BP or not BP?, said: “There is no way that our national cultural institutions should be legitimising oil companies in the midst of a climate crisis. This is the latest huge win for the movement against fossil fuel sponsorship and leaves the British Museum and Science Museum looking isolated and out of touch.”

Jess Worth, Co-director of Culture Unstained, said: "We’re seeing an unstoppable rejection of fossil fuel funding from our museums and galleries. But the pressure is now on the British Museum, which is currently deciding whether to renew its own BP sponsorship deal, to get on the right side of history.

To learn more about the wider campaign visit the Culture Unstained website.

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