Amelia Gregory assesses the current issue of climate change in the intricate networkings behind the British Museum sponsorships
The British Museum has recently decided against major sponsor, BP, for its Arctic: culture and climate exhibition. The British Museum has received backlash due to its association with BP, who have sponsored them for 23 years. Considering the current anxieties surrounding the climate crisis, this upset is natural and is only heightened by the hypocrisy that would be at play if BP were to sponsor this particular exhibition. Arctic: culture and crisis will present objects belonging to indigenous peoples whose way of life is being compromised as a result of climate change. Personally, I would feel a sense of discomfort if BP were to financially support this exhibition. This would be due to the prominence that the implications climate change has within the exhibition and the source of the financial backing being a major oil and gas company. However, this brings to question whether we, as users of fossil fuels in our day to day lives, can really criticise the partnership? Despite being aware of my own responsibility as a consumer and the connection between individual energy consumption and climate change, I feel that it would have been inappropriate for the British Museum to allow BP to sponsor an exhibition of this nature.
However, BP has been credited on the British Museum’s website as allowing almost 5 million visitors to access events at the British Museum. This accessibility to art and culture can be argued to be a positive result of BP’s involvement with the British Museum, as money coming from the fossil fuel industry is being put towards a positive cause. Alternatively, this could be seen as corrupting and tainting the institutions that they work with, and the collections that they present. The ability to access art and cultural events is of high importance, and so institutions such as the British Museum need to be funded, I do not feel that this accessibility should be sacrificed. However, institutions of this size and reputability should be able to be more selective of its partnerships, and the results of this selectivity could have substantial positive repercussions. In 2019 the RSC released a statement confirming that they were ending their partnership with BP as a result of the growing concerns that people had regarding the climate emergency. The example set by the RSC proves that these institutions can afford to be selective with their sponsorships and will hopefully put pressure on other establishments to follow in their lead and prioritise environmental and ethical standards when choosing their partnerships.
The exhibition will be open from the 28th May until the 23rd August 2020 and is supported by Citigroup, a global bank who have also been associated with fossil fuels, but their partnership with the museum appears to be significantly less controversial, receiving less criticism than that of BP.