This page aims to provide a current picture about fossil fuel sponsorship of major cultural institutions in the UK.
As of February 2022, the main British cultural institutions who have ended fossil fuel funding completely (most following significant creative campaigns) are Tate, Edinburgh International Festival, Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House, Scottish Ballet, the National Theatre, Southbank Centre, the National Gallery, National Galleries Scotland and The Edinburgh Science Festival. The Natural History Museum used to be sponsored by Shell (specifically the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award). Under pressure, it shifted to DONG Energy/Orsted which has now divested from fossil fuels.
And it is not just in the UK that the campaign to clean up cultural sponsorship is winning. Wins from around the world include the Canadian Museum of History, American Museum of Natural History (and David Koch was also forced to resign from its board), Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Nemo Science Museum in Amsterdam, Field Museum in Chicago, and Mauritshuis and Museon in The Hague.
Below are listed the major British cultural institutions who have - and used to have – ties to the oil industry, with the Science Museum Group and British Museum remaining the most prominent.
Information and inspiration about why oil sponsors do not belong in museums can be found at the Behind the Logos website. Copy us in to your email correspondence at firstname.lastname@example.org and do share it on social media!
This information was correct as of November 2021. Feel free to contact us with further information and updates about fossil-fuel funding of these or other UK-based organisations.
Currently partnering with fossil fuel companies:
Aberdeen Art Gallery
In 2019 BP funded a series of 'BP Galleries' as part of Aberdeen Art Gallery's redevelopment, which opened in November 2019. The gallery continued to host the BP Portrait Award after the Scottish National Portrait Gallery announced it would no longer do so over climate concerns.
BP is a current 'Global Partner', supporting the public programme annually since 1996 and is currently a sponsor of major exhibitions. They funded the BP Lecture Theatre, as well as various touring exhibitions, the major Vikings exhibition in 2014, the Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation exhibition in 2015, Sunken Cities in 2016 and the 2017 Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia exhibition. The contract was renewed in July 2016, for a new commitment period from 2018 - 2022, extended to 2023 due to the impacts of the Covid pandemic. The first BP exhibition for this new period was 'I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria'.
Contacts for British Museum
Hartwig Fischer, Director
Address: British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG
Tel: 020 7323 8000/8299
Sadler's Wells is sponsored by Barclays. In June 2021 the institution was put under pressure to end the partnership by a letter from performing arts professionals. Barclays is the largest financier of fossil fuel extraction in Europe. Sadler’s Wells board chair is also chair of Barclays. This, despite Sadler's Wells claiming:
'We are proud of our full alignment with the UK’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and five-star Creative Green rating for environmental best practice'
Email Sadler's Wells:
Science Museum Group
The Science Museum in Kensington is the largest of the museums in the Group, which includes the National Media Museum in Bradford, the National Railway Museum in York, The Science and Industry Museum in Manchester (formerly MOSI) and other venues. Both BP and Shell are top-level Corporate Partners, with their support most visible in London, where Shell sponsored 'Atmosphere', the Science Museum’s permanent exhibit exploring climate science, until it was exposed in 2015 for influencing the content of this exhibit, and its contract was not renewed. In 2016, BP sponsored the 'Cosmonauts' exhibition, and the museum launched a new permanent children's gallery 'Wonderlab', sponsored by Norwegian oil company Equinor (formerly Statoil). In 2021 Shell sponsored the museum's flagship 'Our Future Planet' climate exhibition, and the museum announced a new sponsorship deal with Adani Green Energy, a subsidiary of Adani Group which is a major coal company. There has been huge controversy over these announcements.
Contacts for SMG
Ian Blatchford, Director
Address: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD
Tel: 0870 870 4868
Formerly partnered with fossil fuel companies:
Edinburgh Science Festival
Was sponsored by Shell, until successful campaigning by Science Unstained ended the deal in 2019. Better still, the festival has pledged to never again take sponsorship from fossil fuel companies. In a statement, the organisers Edinburgh Science said: “With the issues of climate change ever present and urgent, we feel increasingly compromised by the conflict between accepting sponsorship from fossil fuel companies and programming events that scrutinise the main causes of climate change. “The UN intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) calls for a dramatic and immediate reduction in the amount of fossil fuels consumed if we are to keep global warming to no more than 1.5C. “Whilst we see change happening in the oil and gas sector and appreciate that the demands on them are complex, we are of the view that the sector is not moving fast enough to meet the IPCC targets and that there is a conflict between their behaviour and the underlying science.” This is a powerful precendent that we hope other institutions will follow. More info here.
British Film Institute
Both BP and Shell used to be a corporate members but that ended in 2020. American Airlines and Porsche remain...
Edinburgh International Festival
The Edinburgh International Festival was sponsored by BP for 34 years until 2015. In 2016, following protests the previous year by Art Not Oil members and allies, the Festival revealed that this sponsorship deal had ended.
A prevous corporate partner was Tullow Oil, a 'leading independent oil exploration and production company, focused on finding and monetising oil in Africa and the Atlantic Margins.'
"We have a fantastic relationship with Kew. Our Corporate Membership gives us a great way to motivate staff, and demonstrate our commitment to the environment." (Karen Ali, Tullow Oil). Happily, Tullow is no longer a corporate partner.
For a long time Shell was a regular sponsor of major exhibitions, including the Rembrandt exhibition in 2015. In 2018 we were pleased to learn that Shell has ended its sponsorship of the National Gallery (though they are planning to instead focus on influencing science education).
National Maritime Museum
Part of the Royal Museums Greenwich group. Happily no longer supported by BP Shipping Ltd and Shell Shipping, but - unhappily - still supported by Boeing, HSBC and BAE Systems.
National Portrait Gallery
The high-profile BP Portrait Award ran for 30 years. NPG was one of the 'big four' who had a rolling 5-year sponsorship deal with BP (along with Royal Shakespeare Company, British Museum and Royal Opera House). The contract was renewed in July 2016, for a new commitment period from 2018 - 2022, however after intense pressure from artists the final two awards were cancelled, ostensibly due to the museum closing for building works. Then in February 2022, the gallery announced that the BP deal was coming to an end and would not be renewed. This drew to a close an almost 20-year UK campaign against BP sponsorship of the Portrait Award, first begun by London Rising Tide in 2003 and carried on by many others since.
Shell once sponsored a series of classical dramas at the National Theatre and used to be a top-level corporate partner. After being downgraded to ‘Platinum Member’, it was then downgraded further to ‘Gold’. Then, in October 2019, in line with its newly declared climate emergency, it announced it would no longer be allied with Shell in any way. Current partners such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch gain anonymity about their perks, while at a lower level, Gold Members such as Brunswick Group (which has done a considerable amount of PR work for Shell) are offered a wide range of hospitality, tickets and behind-the-scenes opportunities.
Natural History Museum
The Museum’s mission is deeply ecological: ‘Through our collections and scientific expertise, we are helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in more than 68 countries.’ In 2014 we were pleased to see it had ended most of its relationship with both BP and Shell. The museum replaced Shell as sponsor of Wildlife Photographer of the Year with Dong Energy, which at the time was still involved in oil and gas extraction. However, in 2017 Dong Energy changed its name to Ørsted and has since sold all its oil and gas business and is now producing energy from renewable sources only.
After protests by the Art Not Oil campaign resulted in Shell being replaced as sponsor of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, the company continued for another few years as a ‘Diamond Level’ Corporate Member, as did BP. ‘Emerald Level’ Corporate Members still include mining goliath Rio Tinto. BP supported the museum’s BP micropalaeontology research project between 2015 and 2017, but this now seems to have concluded.
This project was part of museum’s wider micropalaeontology research, which was used “to reconstruct past environments and locate hydrocarbon reserves buried deep underground.” According to its website, the museum offers this expertise as a consultancy service to oil and gas companies. However, when challenged on this on Twitter in January 2020, the museum said "We have done no consulting work for the oil and gas industry since 2017. We apply a code of ethics and undertake due diligence when making decisions on potential and existing relationships."
One of the biggest individual donors to the NHM is British-Australian billionaire hedge-fund manager - and prolific funder of climate denial groups - Michael Hintze. His £5 million donation has earned him a gallery bearing his name.
As of 2019, the museum was still hosting the Petroleum Group Annual Dinner, "One of the major social events in the petroleum industry calendar", although this attracted major protests.
In January 2020, the museum announced its strategy for tackling the climate and ecological emergency up to 2031. The strategy says nothing about the museum's relationship with the fossil fuel industry and on twitter the museum refused to rule out future partnerships.
Contacts for NHM
Michael Dixon, Director
Address: NHM, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD
Email: email@example.com and/or email via the contact form
Tel: 020 7942 5000
Royal Opera House
The ROH includes the Royal Opera, the Royal Ballet, the ROH Orchestra and the ROH Chorus. ROH also runs the cultural education ‘bridge’ organisation for ACE, for schools in four English counties. The upper echelon of ROH funders known as the ‘Chairman's Circle’, includes BP, which funds the ‘BP Big Screens’ programme of video link-ups across the UK. The ROH's contract with BP was renewed in July 2016 for a new commitment period from 2018 - 2022. BP Big Screens did not happen in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid pandemic. In January 2023, the ROH confirmed that it had ended its BP partnership for good.
Royal Shakespeare Company
BP was a Corporate Partner and sponsor of 'BP £5 Tickets', the RSC's initiative to provide cheap theatre tickets to 16-25 year olds, until the RSC announced in 2019 it was ending the 5-year sponsorship deal, announced in July 2016, two years early. This unprecedented decision to end the BP deal mid-way through the contract followed a sustained 7-year campaign by BP or not BP?, theatre professionals such as Sir Mark Rylance, Culture Unstained and, at the end, youth climate strikers. The RSC has said the £5 ticket scheme will continue following the decision. Before sponsoring the £5 ticket scheme, BP sponsored a major series of plays at the RSC in 2012, as part of the World Shakespeare Festival.
Scottish Ballet had a partnership with BP for a number of years. BP presented itself as a “sustainability partner”. According to the Ballet’s Annual Report in 2021, the oil giant helped to “evaluate Scottish Ballet’s carbon footprint and…develop sustainable policies and working practices” as part of BP’s “ambitions for net zero”. After protests at the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November 2021 the Ballet announced it was reviewing the partnership. Then in February 2022, the Ballet confirmed that they had ended their BP partnership, saying that the agreement with BP no longer ‘aligns with the company’s green action plan – to be carbon neutral by 2030’.
'Shell Classic International' used to be the most visible expression of SBC’s partnership with Shell. We were pleased to hear in January 2014 that Shell has terminated the 8 year deal following musical interventions from Shell Out Sounds. However, the relationship continued with Shell as a ‘Corporate Supporter’ until 2020 when the partnership ended following pressure from staff and campaigners.
Shell had previously funded upgrades to the building - there is a ‘monument’ to this fact in the Royal Festival Hall. Several previous board members had close ties to the oil industry.
BP was a major sponsor of Tate from 1990 until 2016. The sponsorship deal was last renewed in December 2011 despite massive opposition from Tate members, visitors and the wider public as well artists. In 2013 Tate Britain’s main collection was rebranded the 'BP Walk Through British Art'.
Victoria & Albert Museum
The V&A Museum has a comparatively good history in relation to oil sponsorship, although a 2013 touring exhibition about Pearls was sponsored by Shell and Qatar Gas.
TOTAL used to be listed as a Corporate Member, but isn't mentioned in their more recent annual reports.