Posts Tagged ‘Neil MacGregor’

BP Or Not BP?

Monday, December 20th, 2021

Since their birth as the Reclaim Shakespeare Company in 2012, BP Or Not BP? have carried out an incredible range of high-profile theatrical interventions which have received widepread media coverage against the abuse of our major cultural institutions by BP. One of the world’s major fossil fuel companies, BP uses its support of the arts to give it a respectable and worthy veneer while continuing to play its part in fuelling global warming and preventing real action against climate change.

According to the BP Or Not BP? website, the “have performed without permission at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the British Museum, the Edinburgh International Festival, the National Gallery, Cadogan Hall, the Royal Opera House, the Science Museum, the Roundhouse, the Noel Coward Theatre, the National Portrait Gallery and in Tate Britain.’

Some of these events have involved wide public participation, and have had considerable advance publicity andI’ve photographed a number of those that have taken place in London, but others have needed to be kept secret in advance, with only the players and a small number of trusted photographers and videographers being involved.

BP sponsored an exhibition on Mexico – the site of BP’s 2020 Deepwater Horizon disaster

On 20th December 2015, I was pleased to be asked to photograph a performance of a play depicting ‘BP executives’ giving a farewell party to departing Museum director ‘Neil MacGregor’ inside the British Museum’s Great Court as visitors and security stood and watched. The pictures here are a small reflection of those I took on that occasion.

Sunken Cities – BP activities are causing sea level rise

You can read my account of the event at End BP’s British Museum Greenwash, along with a more detailed account of the proceedings including the full written script by BP or Not BP? on their web site. Although as I wrote, the actual performance contained considerable improvised embellishment.

In my account of the event, I included these paragraphs about the reasons behind the protest:

BP makes a relatively small contribution to the museums budget, a fraction of a percent, for which they get an engraved message on the wall of the rotunda in the Great Court and their logo prominently on the publicity for the museum’s major exhibitions, including Vikings, Ming, Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation, the Mexican Day of the Dead and Sunken Cities, the last two perhaps particularly unfortunate as BP has been given the largest corporate criminal fine in history of $18.7 billion for the underwater Deepwater Horizon oil spill which caused huge pollution of the ocean around the coast of Mexico.

The current 5-year sponsorship deal between BP and the British Museum ends shortly and the museum and its new director will soon have to decide whether to renew its with the oil giant. While a good deal for BP, the amount concerned is a relatively small contribution to the museum’s budget, and thanks to the activities of BP or Not BP and other climate activists results in a great deal of bad publicity for the museum; hopefully they will look for less toxic sponsors.

After the performance inside the museu, there was another on the steps outside

Unfortnately the British Museum hasn’t ended its deal but renewed it and is still taking dirty oil money from BP. In November 2021 over 90 leading members of the archaeology and museum community sent an open letter to the Museum trustees calling on them to end BP sponsorship which they describe as “a strategy of reputational management. BP is taking advantage of the British Museum’s status as a highly respected institution, and of the public’s love of museums and heritage, to associate its brand with values of high culture, art, education, sophistication, reason, and knowledge. These values have powerful significance and appeal within our society and, crucially, among our political and civic decision-makers.”

BP or not BP? might put it more succintly: “‘greenwashing’ their very dirty, oily, reputation”.


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British Museum and BP

Sunday, December 20th, 2020

Five years ago today on 20th December 2015 I went into the British Museum with “actor-vists” from ‘BP or not BP‘ to photograph their ‘A Farewell to Neil MacGregor – Director of the British Museum‘ who had enjoyed a “cosy relationship” with the museum’s sponsor, BP.

Fossil-fuel companies make their profits largely through the combustion of the hydrocarbons they produce in the engines of cars, lorries and aeroplanes and the boilers used to generate electricity and heat buildings and other processes which turn the carbon in these fuels into the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, the main cause of the global warming which is currently threatening the future of human life.

As well as that, the prospecting and exploitation of oil resources, now more and more taking place in environmentally fragile areas such as the Arctic, together with spillages, some inevitable but others demonstrating a remarkable lack of care are causing terrible damage to our environment. And of course most of what doesn’t get burned is made into plastics and we are now becoming aware of the huge amounts of this that ends up in the marine environment with disastrous consequences.

While continuing to fuel the global crisis, companies such as BP have invested heavily in promoting themselves as good guys, publicising the relatively small investments they have been making in renewable energies and other green areas. It’s a short-sighted policy as their long-term future – and ours – depends on a complete move away from carbon fuels, but one which keeps current investors rich at the cost of the rest of us.

Almost certainly the most cost-effective part of the ‘green-washing’ of BP’s ecologically disastrous activities has been their sponsorship of many of our major cultural institutions including the British Museum, something which the cultural activists of ‘BP or not BP’ have highlighted in a number of artistic interventions. I was pleased to be able to photograph their play depicting ‘BP executives’ giving a farewell party to departing Museum director ‘Neil MacGregor’ inside the British Museum’s Great Court.

Although BP’s contribution is only a fraction of the museum’s budget, they get an engraved message on the wall of the rotunda in the Great Court and their logo prominently on the publicity for the museum’s major exhibitions which have included Vikings, Ming, Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation, the Mexican Day of the Dead and Sunken Cities. As BP or Not BP point out, the last two are particularly unfortunate as BP has been given the largest corporate criminal fine in history of $18.7 billion for the underwater Deepwater Horizon oil spill which caused huge pollution of the ocean around the coast of Mexico.

My write-up on My London Diary gives a fairly full account of what happened with a lot more pictures. Many museum staff are unhappy about taking cash from BP and welcome the publicity protests like this give. The protesters assured the museum security that they would cause no damage and leave without any trouble after the relatively short performance which continued without any interruption and entertained a number of the visitors to the museum.

You can also read a fuller account, with some of my pictures and including the full text of the play on the on the BP or not BP website.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.