A detective flashmob at the British Museum will expose Big Oil’s dirty secrets. Chris Garrard invites you to join in.
The British Museum is currently the UK’s most visited cultural institution, with galleries filled with artefacts from across the world. However, the British Museum also has one of the longest running partnerships with BP – one of the world’s most irresponsible fossil fuel companies. BP is the world’s largest corporate criminal, subject to the largest criminal fine in history ($4.5 billion) for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. By sponsoring the museum for small amounts, the oil giant plasters its logo on exhibitions, posters and lecture theatres. It’s through partnerships like these that BP is able to buy a social legitimacy it doesn’t deserve, with the museum helping to cleanse BP’s tainted brand.
Until now though, we’d only been able to speculate about the size of BP’s donation but, following a Freedom of Information request, the British Museum has disclosed the size of BP’s embarrassingly small donation. From 2000 to 2011, BP donated an average of £596,000 ($883,000) a year – just 0.8 per cent of the museum’s income. The revelation comes just weeks after an information tribunal had forced Tate galleries to reveal its BP sponsorship amounts: £240,000 ($356,000) a year on average. That’s roughly the same price as a 30-second advert during the X Factor final.
It’s clear that BP’s sponsorship deals with the British Museum and the Tate have nothing to do with philanthropy. While a wave of universities and faith institutions have broken their ties with the fossil fuel industry as part of the ‘Fossil Free’ movement, the British Museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, continues to praise BP for its ‘longstanding commitment to the museum’.
In contrast, BP’s loyalty to the Gulf of Mexico has been nonexistent. It pleaded guilty to 14 criminal charges over the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2012 and it is now in court facing a fine of up to $13.7 billion under the US Clean Water Act – with other claims still to come. In 2014, a senior judge in the case ruled that BP bore the majority of the responsibility for Deepwater Horizon, due to the company’s ‘grossly negligent’ behaviour.
Cherri Foytlin, a Gulf Coast resident and mother of six, has said:
‘Scientists recently discovered a 10-million-gallon mat of BP’s oil on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico – a mat the size of Rhode Island. They called it a “conduit of contamination into the food web”. That is the same food web that all humankind depends on to sustain life. BP is a criminal against all humankind, and so is any entity that harbours such a criminal. It is time for humanity to stand together and push out all who seek to destroy us. The British Museum must decide exactly whose side it is on – BP’s or the world’s?’
Last month, our ‘actor-vist’ theatre troupe, BP or not BP?, went in search of the oily tyrant hiding out within the museum walls. Our performance featured Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and a bunch of comedy cops who, in their absent-mindedness, let an oily BP villain escape into the museum! This Sunday though, we’ll return to the museum to host a Detective Flashmob with over 200 people dressed as their favourite detectives, from Inspector Morse to Scooby-doo. With their help, we’ll track down the dastardly BP and hold a ‘people’s trial’. During that trial, we’ll invite the public to present evidence of BP’s climate crimes, from extracting highly polluting tar sands oil in Canada, to its plans to drill in the vulnerable Arctic, alongside the Russian state-owned oily company, Rosneft.
BP has already been found grossly negligent in a US court but on Sunday, we’ll put BP on trial for ‘gross deception’ – for falsely painting itself as a generous and responsible sponsor. Our much-loved cultural institutions don’t have to compromise on their ethics and they aren’t dependent on corporate sponsors like BP in order to fund their core work. Every day, the staff at the British Museum work to preserve the past, helping to shape our future. Neil MacGregor should do the same, by ending an unethical partnership with a company pushing us towards runaway climate change.
You can join BP or not BP’s ‘detective flashmob’ at the British Museum on Sunday 29 March at 3pm in the Great Court. Find out more by going to the Facebook event here.
Chris Garrard is a musician, researcher and environmental campaigner. He is a member of BP or not BP? and part of the Art Not Oil coalition.