Writer urges British Museum to end BP sponsorship

A writer has urged the British Museum to end its sponsorship deal with BP as she delivered a lecture in its theatre.

Meehan Crist, a writer-in-residence of biological sciences at Columbia University in the US, was giving a talk entitled Is It OK To Have Children?

Speaking at the museum’s BP Lecture Theatre, she explored the debate around the ethics of having children at a time of climate crisis.

Critics say the oil giant’s sponsorship of institutions such as the British Museum acts to “artwash” BP.

Ms Crist told the audience that “what BP is buying – the social licence to operate – is far more valuable than the funding they offer the arts”.

With the emphasis on the “carbon footprint”, companies such as BP “have invested in propaganda that cleverly deflects responsibility for emissions from the company on to the individual”, she said as she delivered the lecture in the theatre sponsored by the energy giant.

“BP’s relationship with the British Museum will be up for review next year, and from where I’m standing, it looks like the museum has an opportunity to show leadership by ending the sponsorship deal,” she said.

Her comments come after protests at the British Museum ended following more than 50 hours, amid a row over the oil company’s sponsorship.

Climate activists BP Or Not BP? occupied the Great Court inside the museum on Saturday night, where they covered themselves in plaster as part of a “theatrical protest”.

BP Or Not BP activist Phil Ball stands with a Trojan horse in front of the British Museum earlier this month
BP Or Not BP activist Phil Ball stands with a Trojan horse in front of the British Museum earlier this month

Around 60 people took part in the action, in which they created a structure out of their body parts for a piece called Monument.

Amid the protests, museum director Hartwig Fischer said the museum “shares the concerns for the challenges that we all face together as a result of climate change”.

“We address these issues in an innovative way through significant exhibitions and public programming,” he said.

“The British Museum offers for millions of people an extraordinary opportunity to engage with the cultures and histories of humankind.

“Without external support and sponsorship, this would not be possible.

“Removing this opportunity from the public is not a contribution to solving the climate crisis.”

The Royal Shakespeare Company and National Galleries Scotland have severed ties with the company, while the National Theatre cut links with Shell.

BP’s new chief executive recently laid out the company’s ambition to eliminate its net emissions by the middle of the century.

The lecture is part of the LRB Winter Lectures series: www.lrb.co.uk/pages/standalone/our-2020-lrb-winter-lectures-at-the-british-museum