BP's relationship with British Museum comes under scrutiny

By Cameron Saunders
Since 1996, the oil giant has been associated with the most-visited museum in London, but next year a plan will be unveiled to make it carbon neutral

The Parthenon Marbles, the Benin Bronzes, treasure troves of antiquities taken from Egypt and Mesopotamia… for years the British Museum (BM) has been in the crosshairs of objectors who have decried the cultural imperialism and plundering that for centuries served  as the  backbone of its collection. 

But recently, a new cut of protester has taken umbrage with the London-based institution: the climate protester. 

These objections stem from a very public sponsorship deal that the museum maintains with BP, another London-based institution that is one of the largest oil companies in the world. Indeed, whenever a blockbuster show at the BM occurs (currently, there is one about Egyptian hieroglyphics) it will say, ‘Presented by BP.’ 

The relationship between the BM and BP dates back to 1996 and has been built on successive five-year arrangements. Due to Covid, the last agreement was extended by a year, but two months from now it is up for review. 

Many are wondering if it is right that a cultural institution maintain such a close financial relationship with a heavy polluter like BP. Climate activists – organised under the moniker, BP or Not BP? – have taken to protesting at the museum, with the latest having occurred yesterday in the museum’s Great Hall. 

A new master plan

Suspicions as to whether the relationship will continue have been doubly aroused after a speech to trustees last month from the museum’s chair, George Osbourne. In it, he announced a “complete reimagination” of the museum that will be announced next year. This new master plan will cost around £1bn and aims to make the museum carbon neutral. 

Said Osbourne: “Our goal is to be a net zero carbon museum… [and] no longer a destination for climate protest but instead an example of climate solution.” 

In the event that the BM does drop its relationship with BP, it will be joining a long list of British art institutions to do so in recent years. Among those that have cut ties  are the Tate, the Edinburgh international festival, National Galleries Scotland, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish Ballet. 

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