Big Oil Funding Museums Is Starting To Backfire Spectacularly

Activists shut down the British Museum on the opening day of BP-funded exhibition "Sunken Cities."

Greenpeace activists shut down the British Museum for four hours Thursday when they scaled the building’s columns to protest an exhibition sponsored by oil company BP.

“Greenpeace is calling on the British Museum to end its partnership with BP,” Greenpeace spokesman Stefano Gelmini told The Huffington Post in an email. “The British Museum faces a choice — continue to prop up one of the world’s dirtiest companies, or drop BP and show a strong commitment to the present and future generations,” he added.

The exhibition in question, “Sunken Cities,” opened this week, showcasing artifacts from two ancient Egyptian cities that have been submerged in the Mediterranean sea for more than a thousand years. Greenpeace called BP's support of the show a “stunning irony,” since fossil fuel-spurred climate change contributes to rising sea levels and flooding.

The 85 activists who participated in the protest scaled the museum columns and posted banners on the facade. The 27-foot-long signs bore the words “sinking cities” along with the names of cities, like New Orleans and Manila, that have experienced devastating floods.

Gelmini was unable to say whether any of the participants were facing charges.

The protest came on the heels of two Tuesday demonstrations by BP Or Not BP?, a theatrical activist group dedicated to ending “oil sponsorship of culture, in all its forms.” As part of the protests, 10 performers crashed the evening VIP reception and read out lists of cities endangered by rising sea levels while a performer playing a BP representative drenched them in water.

BP Or Not BP? activists perform at the VIP launch of the exhibit.
BP Or Not BP? activists perform at the VIP launch of the exhibit.

Greenpeace alleges that BP exerted influence over the London museum, leading to “curatorial decisions on exhibitions that held strategic political and commercial value for BP.”

Both activist groups want the British Museum to cut ties with the oil company when their five-year partnership ends next year. They point to a recent comprehensive report by the Art Not Oil Coalition that appears to show BP and several art institutions — including the British Museum — collaborating in the oil company's favor. (BP Or Not BP? is a member of the Art Not Oil Coalition.)

A drenched protestor at BP Or Not BP?'s protest at the British Museum.
A drenched protestor at BP Or Not BP?'s protest at the British Museum.

The most worrying examples involve BP attempting to use the museum to further its influence in countries where the company wants to drill, said Jess Worth, co-founder of BP Or Not BP?

For instance, when BP was seeking drilling permits in Mexico, the company allegedly used a Days of the Dead festival to gain access to Mexican government officials.

BP spokeswoman Shannon Wiseman said the company “never” seeks “curatorial influence,” but admitted that BP and the museum work together to select exhibitions for BP to fund.

Museum spokeswoman Kate Morais said, “Corporate partners of the British Museum do not have any influence over the content of our exhibitions.” She added that the Days of the Dead festival was "produced in collaboration with the Mexican Embassy, as part of the UK Mexico Year" and "there were therefore understandably Mexican government representatives present at key moments in the festival which was enjoyed by 80,000 visitors."

But as long as the museum continues to get BP funding, protests probably aren’t going away.

"They can't allow BP to sponsor an exhibition called 'Sunken Cities' and not expect these kinds of repercussions,” Worth said.



Oil Spills Since The Gulf Disaster