Fossil Fuels vs the Arts

Hypocritical funding decisions cloud artistic integrity.

There’s an inherent contrariness in the relationship between the arts and the corporate world.  Art is enlightened, challenging; experimental, socially conscience, pretty seaside landscapes and everything in between.  The corporate world is booming business and capitalism on steroids, an arena not particularly well known for its friendliness towards the environment.  The two seem incompatible – contradictory even – yet it’s not uncommon to find that the line is becoming increasingly blurred.

Such issues have been well-publicised lately, in the wake of the revelation that the Tate receives at least £150,000 in sponsorship from oil magnate BP.  This, however, pales in comparison with the deal announced in 2011, in which the Tate, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Opera House were all to receive £10 million in sponsorship from BP over the next five years, with a possibility of renewal. These figures appear jarring and hypocritical when considered next to the Tate’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint through the 10:10 campaign – is joining up with the world’s third largest carbon dioxide emitter really the best way to pursue such ethical aims?

Sponsorship of arts institutions has been termed ‘artwash’; a way for companies like BP and Shell to enhance their reputation through association.  It has led to concerns that big businesses might gradually impact upon the material showcased in galleries, a very real fear in the light of increased government cuts to the arts.  As state funding regrettably decreases, where else can the arts turn to for much-needed money?

 The real issue here is one about survival, and the ethical price of art.  It’s important, in a world of ever increasing transparency, for an arts organisation to prioritise company values and minimise sponsorship conflicts – not merely to keep its own cultural integrity, but to continue to attract stimulating, vibrant artists and exhibitions.  Ideally, the arts would be far removed from dubious concerns, but realistically, museums like Tate are flourishing businesses in themselves and persist in operating as such.  It remains to be seen whether oil will be the next to be blacklisted – following in the shady footsteps of tobacco and weapons – but we can only be hopeful.
[Rachel Walker]

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