Environmental Activists Focus on Museums That Take Oil Money


“If we want to change climate change legislation, we have to break those relationships,” said Chris Garrard, a representative from Art Not Oil, a British-based coalition of environmental groups focused on the arts.

But the sense of urgency isn’t shared equally across the arts, even in Europe. BP still sponsors important traditional cultural institutions such as the British Museum, as well as the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery. BP has continued five-year sponsorships at the London’s Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Funding the arts “is something that BP has been involved in for over 50 years,” said Shannon Wiseman, deputy head of the group press office at BP, said. “It’s an important part of what we think of as our local community, and something we continue to be involved in.” She added that it “helps our partners to know that they have funding for a secure amount of time.”

The money is often a small part of the overall budget, however. For instance, BP provided just 0.8 percent of the British Museum’s annual income, according to Platform. And the Paradise Papers revealed that some institutions still invest in fossil fuels, even if they have made claims to curb their direct investments.

There has been less of an outcry against oil company funding in the United States. BP has made “significant donations” to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and sponsored a major exhibition on Dutch Golden Age painters at the National Gallery of Art in Washington this year, according to company statements.

The relationship between art museums and oil companies is more pronounced in Houston, a museum hub and energy capital. Richard D. Kinder, the executive chairman and co-founder of Kinder Morgan, an energy infrastructure firm, is the chairman of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The museum’s top corporate sponsors include a number of fossil fuel-related companies, such as Aramco, Shell and TMK Ipsco. In 2016-17, the museum reached a record net worth of $1.6 billion, according to its financial statements.


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