The National Galleries of Scotland have announced they will no longer be holding the annual BP Portrait Awards under their current financial backer, the petrochemical giant BP, due to the contradictory messages they felt they were sending out over the climate emergency.
The National Galleries issued a statement in regards to the dropping of its sponsor: ‘we recognise that we have a responsibility to do all we can to address the climate emergency. For many people, the association of this competition with BP is seen as being at odds with that aim’.
The annual touring exhibition has been funded by BP for the last 30 years and provides the total prize fund of £74,000 every year. 2019 will be the last year the competition and exhibition is hosted in its present form in Scotland.
It is significant that the National Galleries of Scotland have dropped their funding from BP after the Edinburgh International Festival did so in 2015 as well as the Edinburgh Science Festival earlier this year. In October 2019, the Royal Shakespeare Company also announced that their long running sponsorship deal with BP was over and the National Theatre publically stated that their partnership with oil and gas company, Shell will be ending as of next year.
This wave of divestment shows that the years of grassroots protests accusing oil and gas companies of ‘artwashing’ the UK’s cultural institutions are coming to fruition. Of the top twenty companies that contirube to 35% of all carbon emissions, BP is the sixth largest emitter and is involved in numerous regimes that violate human rights. The rejection of funding sends out a message that cultural institutions do not condone the actions of big oil as well as further delegitimising their status and power in mainstream society. Is it only a matter of time before the UK’s arts organisations are completely cleared of involvement with fossil fuel companies?