National Galleries Scotland dump BP exhibition

National Galleries Scotland announced that this will be the last time the BP Portrait Award will be hosted at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, citing BP's contribution to the current climate emergency as the reason for cutting ties

Article by Jamie Dunn | 11 Nov 2019
  • BP or not BP Scotland

Big business has long loved to cosy up to the arts, and it’s easy to see why both parties are happy with the arrangement. The capitalists get a PR boost through their philanthropy and the cash-strapped arts organisation can keep the wolves from the door. But is there a red line that arts organisations shouldn’t cross?

National Galleries Scotland have been asking themselves that question regarding their association with oil giant BP, who have long been the headline sponsor of the National Portrait Gallery's Portrait Award, which comes to Scotland on tour each year. Today the organisation announced it could no longer in good conscience take BP’s cash, and the BP Portrait Award 2019 exhibition, which opens at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on 7 December, will be the last.

“We recognise that we have a responsibility to do all we can to address the climate emergency,” said the National Galleries of Scotland in a statement. “For many people, the association of this competition with BP is seen as being at odds with that aim.

“Therefore, after due consideration, the Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland have decided that this will be the last time that the galleries will host this exhibition in its present form.”

Creative action group BP or not BP? Scotland have been one of the National Galleries of Scotland’s biggest critics on this matter, and have performed several protests inside the Edinburgh gallery on Queen Street, including oily portraits, a theatrical piece featuring paintings depicting the people, animals and landscapes damaged by BP’s oil exploration. BP or not BP? Scotland also challenged the gallery last year by singing ‘climate carols’  in the gallery’s foyer, highlighting BP’s role in human rights abuses and driving climate change.

Leading artists have also been deeply critical of the annual exhibition’s association with BP. In June, the likes of Paul Benney, Henry Christian-Slane, Raoul Martinez and Darvish Fakhr wrote a letter to National Portrait Gallery director Nicholas Cullinan, saying, “we are in a climate emergency. Evidence of the damage fossil fuels cause to the climate, and especially to poor, marginalised and vulnerable communities worldwide, is irrefutable.”

National Galleries Scotland aren’t the only arts organisation trying to distance themselves from Big Oil. This news comes a month after The Royal Shakespeare Company ended its sponsorship with BP. “Amid the climate emergency, which we recognise, young people are now saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the RSC," The Royal Shakespeare Company said in a statement. "We cannot ignore that message,” 

Last month, National Theatre in London also announced that its corporate partnership with BP’s competitor Shell would not be renewed. Other arts organisations in bed with BP like the British Museum and the Royal Opera House, the Science Museum and Southbank Centre should now be feeling the pressure to disassociate themselves from this company and others dedicated to fossil fuels.