At a time when climate change is high on the art world agenda, BP is to end its 26-year sponsorship of Tate next spring. But the oil company blamed an “extremely challenging business environment” for its decision, rather than years of protest against its financial backing of the museum.
Some of the most recent protests against BP’s sponsorship include a sit-in at Tate Britain in November, in which activists tattooed each other with numbers representing CO2 concentrations, and the “seed bombing” of Abraham Cruzvillegas’s Turbine Hall installation at Tate Modern in December.
BP’s decision to withdraw funds ends what the Tate's website describes as the “longest and most consistent” sponsorship of any permanent art collection in the UK. “Tate’s collection is made up of some 66,000 works, many of them would have never been able to be shown at Tate Britain without the BP and Tate partnership,” the website says. A spokeswoman for the museum says it “will look for a new sponsor in due course”.
In January 2015, after a three-year legal battle, Tate revealed it received £4m in sponsorship from BP between 1990 and 2006. The revelation came after the publicly funded museum lost a case at a freedom of information tribunal. The Tate said the sum constituted “considerable funding”, but according to campaigners who supported the freedom of information request, it was lower than might be expected.
The art collective Liberate Tate has organised many of the protests against BP’s sponsorship. In a statement the group said: “thousands of artists, members and gallery-goers, had called on Tate to end the contract on ethical grounds”.
Liberate Tate member Yasmin De Silva said: “We’re thrilled with the news Tate is rid of BP. About 30 years ago, the tide turned on tobacco sponsorship, and now the same thing is happening to the oil industry. Of course Tate won’t rub it in BP’s face by acknowledging this decision is the result of the increasing public concern about climate change and the huge number of artists, members and gallery-goers speaking out against the controversial deal.”
BP last renewed its sponsorship of Tate and other institutions in 2011. The energy company continues to back the Royal Opera House, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Shakespeare Company.