London’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and BP today jointly announced the cessation of their partnership, effective December 2022, when the contract between the two entities expires. The fossil-fuel conglomerate for thirty years sponsored the gallery’s BP National Portrait award and for twenty-three years played a part in choosing its recipient. The timing of the separation coincides with the 2021–22 suspension of the award, necessitated by the $46 million renovation of the gallery’s St. Martin’s Place building.
“[BP’s] funding for the award has fostered creativity, encouraged portrait painting for over thirty years and given a platform to artists from around the world, as well as providing inspiration and enjoyment for audiences across the UK,” acknowledged NPG director Nicholas Cullinan in a statement. BP’s Louise Kingham, BP’s senior vice president for Europe and head of country for the UK, noted, “As we transition to become net-zero by 2050 and help the world get there too, we must look at new ways to best use our talent, experience and resources.”
Jess Worth, a codirector of activist organization Culture Unsustained, which has in recent years other such collectives in pressuring British galleries to stop accepting funding from the oil-and-gas behemoth, pointed out, “[BP] spent thirty years painting a picture of itself as a responsible philanthropist but it is rapidly running out of places to clean up its toxic image. Even now it continues to invest millions in finding new sources of oil and gas, which will only push the world deeper into climate breakdown.”
Among the UK organizations that have severed ties with BP since 2017 as climate change becomes more visible are Tate, the National Theatre, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, all in London, and Edinburgh’s National Galleries Scotland. All eyes are now on London’s British Museum, which, under the leadership of newly established chair George Osborne, has fielded demands from activists and its own staff and trustees to end relations with the petroleum giant.