London Royal Opera House ends its relationship with BP

Many British cultural institutions have ended their relationship with oil giant BP in recent years, thanks to pressure from activists and the public.

BP is no longer a sponsor of the London Royal Opera House, which terminated their relationship after 33 years. This shift can be attributed to activist pressure, as partnerships between UK cultural institutions such as the Royal Opera House and the British Museum and the British multinational oil and gas company BP have sparked many protests in recent years.

In a comment to the Guardian, a Royal Opera House spokesperson confirmed that BP and ROH “agreed that the partnership would not extend beyond 22 December, when BP’s contract came to an end.”

What we are witnessing is a seismic shift, a near wholesale rejection across the arts of BP’s brand and the climate-wrecking business it represents. By bringing down the curtain on fossil fuel funding, the Royal Opera House can now play a leading role in creating the culture beyond oil we so urgently need.

Chris Garrard, composer and Co-director of Culture Unstained

royal opera house ends relationship with bp
Calls to end the Royal Opera House’s partnership with BP came from musicians as well as activists © Gabriel Varaljay /Unsplash

Concerns didn’t just come from environmental activists but also from culture sector workers. More than 200 musicians wrote to the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, in 2019 to ask him to withdraw permission for BP’s branding of the Royal Opera House’s Big Screen’ broadcasts.

As union activists, we are delighted by the decision to drop BP: the work of artists and stage managers at the Royal Opera House is no longer being used to greenwash BP’s reckless behaviour.

Will Attenborough of Equity for a Green New Deal, a network of activists within the union

What is artwashing?

The term “artwashing” is used to describe the practice of utilizing the arts to divert public attention from the controversial actions of individuals, companies, and authorities or to legitimize said actions in people’s eyes.

Gas and oil companies like BP, which recently released its investment plans involving billions allocated to oil and gas amid a climate crisis sparked by fossil fuels, often engage in partnerships with arts and cultural institutions. Such partnerships are beneficial to these businesses as they allow the companies to boost their image by associating themselves with culture and its promotion.

Other British cultural institutions have ended their partnership with BP

The partnership between BP and the Tate Museums ended in 2016, while the Royal Shakespeare Company announced the cessation of its partnership with the oil and gas company at the end of 2019. BP’s partnership with the National Portrait Gallery ceased in December 2022, when their contract ended.

The British Museum is now one of the last remaining major UK arts charities still receiving funding from BP © Nicolas Lysandrou/Unsplash

Further pressure on the British Museum

BP has been a sponsor of the British Museum since 1996. In April 2022, climate activists, experts, and culture sector workers signed a formal submission to the British Museum’s Board of Trustees highlighting the contradiction between the museum’s commitments to sustainability and the deal with oil and gas company BP.

The British Museum has now become one of the last remaining major UK arts charities still receiving funding from the oil and gas company. The museum has yet to confirm whether it will continue with BP after the current five-year funding deal ends on 19 February 2023.

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