Dirty Money – Oil Sponsorship of the Arts


Tate Modern, Photo credit: Immo Klink

I Love the Arts

The majority of my working life so far has been in the creative industries as an arts manager. I’ve been lucky to work with a range of internationally renowned arts organizations, artists, and projects. They celebrate the culture and vibrance of our cities and their people’s, with some being committed to social change via outreach and educational programmes. The arts have always been my passion and a huge part of my life. I believe strongly in the power of creativity in shaping and improving the world, and like many have been disappointed with government cuts to arts budgets in the UK and abroad. The arts can and do so much more than simply providing entertainment and escapism, but often are a platform for otherwise unheard voices, making critical topics of modern day global problems visible. The arts builds bridges between cultures, and I think governments are still learning about the impact of cultural diplomacy and soft power in how states relate to one another. This truly is the future.

Corporate Creativity

During recent months I have been thinking more about the significance of where the money comes from to support such work. Many years ago when I heard about Arts & Business I was thrilled. Finally an organization encouraging arts organisations and business to develop mutually beneficial relationships. I saw the dependency of organisations on the Arts Council, or having to regularly graft to find funding for different projects. It frustrated me that the sector was not as financially stable as I’d like it to be, to deliver so many more brilliant projects and pay administrators like myself a lot more! However digging deeper into these relationships reveals some ugly dark truths about corporate money, particularly dirty money from oil companies.

Why do corporate organisations support and fund the arts? According to Arts and Business “Through investing in the arts, your business can enhance its branding & reputation, employee development, and community engagement”. Sure, but as arts organisations are we not hypocritical to take the support of some companies such as those taking oil from lands via corrupt means that leave local people reveling in poverty, homeless, and ridden of their human rights? We could have a lifelong debate on the role and purpose of the arts, but I like to think it is there partly to celebrate the beauty of humankind in all its forms, and has a moral duty to protect and safeguard the people and planet it involves and serves. The arts are there to help preserve and protect culture and society, not damage it. But is it not unethical for arts organisations to take money from oil companies that are shamelessly creating problems for many people in our world, and to the earth itself?

Arts Activism

I recently connected with Platform London, a charity that is built on an interdisciplinary foundation that I respect, as it matches my own curiosity of linking different subject together. This is when true innovation and magic happens. Platform London combines arts, activism, education and research to achieve critical social and ecological justice. I’ve been working with them on a campaign exploring the past 25 years of BPs activities and their disaster stories that include destruction to numerous species of wildlife, nature, the environment, the death of workers due to poor health and safety policies, ruining the livelihoods of native communities, and so much more. Yet BP, British Petroleum have been funding the National Portrait Gallery’s annual award for the past 25 years and continues to do so. 2014s prizewinner will be announced in June, and you can rest assured that there will be some criticism of this by social and ecological justice campaigners such as Platform London, Art Not Oil and Liberate Tate. To find out more and read the report we compiled click here

The Devil wears Dirty Oil

Over the last 10 years, BP and Shell have managed to sponsor nearly all of London’s most prestigious museums and cultural institutions, all that I must admit I love. But its not a pretty picture. There was a time when British American Tobacco did the same, but was eventually regarded as socially unacceptable. The same must be considered now of these oil companies, that negatively impact on human rights, the environment and climate change. The arts world is still suffering from the tremors of the economic crisis, and the temptation is there to join forces with powerful businesses, to be able to realise some of our programmes and artistic endeavours. But, is it justified to get into bed with the devil who takes from the poor, leaving African countries in poverty, so that London and it’s visitors can pop into Tate Modern for free, as part of their audience development programme? There is something crudely wrong about all of this, don’t you think?


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