By associating itself with as many ‘Good Things’ as it can (art, sport, supposedly ‘green’ fuels…), BP has sought to maintain market share in an age in which consumerism is apparently becoming increasingly educated and compassionate. A useful side effect of this for BP is that it’s helped to distract the media and public attention from the numerous ‘Bad Things’ it engages with abroad! Unsurprisingly then, BP (and other dirty corporations, most notably Shell) have a long – some would say ‘proud’ – history of sponsoring respected cultural institutions including art galleries, museums, the Royal Opera House, the most recent example of which is of course, BP’s partnership with the London 2012 Olympics.

As PLATFORM explain: “The financial support that the companies provide strengthens their position as a part of Britain’s cultural and social elite, and creates a perception of positive contribution to our society’s culture. This in turn not only provides them with an important profile with ordinary fuel customers, but far more importantly strengthens connections between the corporations and vital bodies such as government departments…” More »

Since the recent government cuts to arts spending and education, arts organisations are more financially vulnerable than ever. Yet this makes it all the more important to consider the suitability of particular sponsors and the influence they exert on both artists and audiences. In 2011, the prospect of oil-free art might seem unimaginable (or at least improbable), yet the tobacco industry provides a clear example of a case in which ‘dirty’ sponsorship of a variety of sports events and cultural institutions was successfully withdrawn. It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible – and is essential if our institutions are to be appreciated on the basis of their outstanding cultural merit, not just as corporate puppets to be used and abused at will.

What does this mean?

In the UK, moving to ban oil industry sponsorship of the arts is vital – not only to release the arts from the stifling stranglehold of oil sponsorship, but to weaken the dangerous power of large corporations like BP by challenging their social legitimacy.