Artists urge Tate to dump BP sponsorship
But are playwright Caryl Churchill and artist John Keane biting the hand that feeds them?
A new front has been opened against BP, the oil company responsible for the devastating Gulf of Mexico oil spill, after an alliance of artists signed a letter calling on galleries and museums to reject the company's sponsorship of exhibitions.
Playwright Caryl Churchill (left), artist Hans Haacke (right) and painter John Keane are among the cultural bigwigs supporting a picket of a summer party to be held this evening at Tate Britain, where the gallery will be celebrating 20 years of patronage by BP.
In a letter to the Guardian, more than 170 artists say they believe the BP logo is "a stain on Tate's international reputation". They express their hope that oil and gas sponsorship will soon be seen in the same light as tobacco money.
"The public is rapidly coming to recognise that the sponsorship programmes of BP and Shell are means by which attention can be distracted from their impacts on human rights, the environment and the global climate," they write.
Critics have suggested that the angry artists could be biting the hand that feeds them. Christopher Frayling, former chairman of Arts Council England, told the BBC's Today programme: "Now is not the time to get squeamish about sponsorship. The system is utterly dependent on sponsorship from companies and large firms."
It is a measure of how important BP's money is to the arts that last week - with the oil giant's reputation at a new low on both sides of the Atlantic - the Tate, the Royal Opera House, the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery were prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and release a joint statement praising the company for its sponsorship.
"We are grateful to BP for their long-term commitment," the statement said. "The income generated through corporate partnerships is vital to the mixed economy of successful arts organisations and enables each of us to deliver a rich and vibrant cultural programme."
Other critics have a problem with the artists' attempt to equate oil and gas companies - which provide essential raw materials - with tobacco companies, whose products we can all do without.
Besides these objections, there is another reason to believe tonight's protests at Tate Britain's summer party will fall on deaf ears. The chairman of the Tate, Lord Browne, was Tony Hayward's predecessor as chief executive of BP. ·
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