BP to end controversial sponsorship of Tate in 2017

Oil giant denies decision is result of repeated protests by environmental campaigners

BP is to end its controversial sponsorship of Tate in 2017 after nearly three decades with the oil giant, The Independent can reveal.

Blaming the “extremely challenging business environment” rather than years of protests against the long-running partnership, the corporate sponsor will part company with the institution next year.

Tate said the company’s long-term support had been an “outstanding example of patronage”. The oil and gas company is also one of the most divisive corporate sponsors of the arts in Britain, with BP and Tate repeatedly targeted by environmental protesters. In recent years, protesters have performed a “mass exorcism” in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, and poured out oil-like molasses at Tate’s annual summer party. Art collective Liberate Tate also staged an anti-BP performance in 2011 where a volunteer was doused in oil inside Tate Britain. Other sponsored institutions have also been targeted.

It even ended up in court last year, when an information tribunal in London demanded Tate reveal financial details of BP’s sponsorship. This followed the Freedom of Information request made by Brendan Montague of the campaign group Request Initiative in 2012. 

The decision to end its sponsorship was not related to the pressure from activists, a BP spokeswoman said: “They are free to express their points of view but our decision wasn’t influenced by that. It was a business decision.”

Peter Mather, head of BP in the UK, said: “The decision to end our contractual relationship with the Tate has been a very difficult one. It reflects the extremely challenging business environment in which we are operating.”

By the end of the contract, BP will have sponsored the gallery for 27 years. “We have seen the Tate’s extraordinary growth and success and we are proud to have played a small part in that,” Mr Mather said. 

The BP spokeswoman said there were no plans to end sponsorship of other arts institutions, but added Tate’s was “the first one up for renewal”. The others include the Royal Opera House, the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. It also sponsors the Royal Shakespeare Company and Hull’s UK City of Culture 2017 programme. 

A spokeswoman for Tate said: “The BP and Tate partnership has been an outstanding example of patronage and collaboration over nearly 30 years.” She said the oil company’s support “represents one of the most significant long-term corporate investments in UK arts and culture”. Another link is that  former BP chief executive Lord Browne is chairman of the Tate trustees.

BP last renewed its sponsorship in 2011 and Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota revealed the organisation had been “thinking very hard” about the sponsorship issue. Tate’s ethics committee had looked at it and the board “thought it was the right thing to continue with BP”, he said.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey welcomed the investment at the time, saying BP had “led the way in business support for the arts” but that same month a petition was handed to Tate with 8,000 signatories calling for an end to the sponsorship.

The Tate spokeswoman said: “Tate wished to express its gratitude to BP for its long-standing commitment and groundbreaking support of the collection displays and other programmes.”

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