Artists and cultural leaders call on British Museum to rename BP Lecture Theatre

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More than 80 artists and cultural figures have called on Hartwig Fischer, the outgoing director of the British Museum in London, to rename the Museum’s BP Lecture Theatre after the institution brought an end to its long-term sponsorship deal with the fossil fuel giant.

Fischer received an open letter this morning, with signatories including the photographer and activist Nan Goldin, who spearheaded the PAIN campaign against the Sackler family; the leading climate scientist Bill McGuire; and the director of London’s Brunel Museum, Katherine McAlpine.

The letter, which has been shared with The Art Newspaper, argues that the continuing presence of BP at the museum “lends [the oil company] an undeserved and dangerous social legitimacy and influence.”

On 1 August, BP published recorded profits of more than $2.6bn in the second financial quarter of 2023, while announcing a $1.5bn buyback for shareholders. The company is continuing to invest in new fossil fuel extraction.

In June 2023, the end of the British Museum’s sponsorship deals with BP was confirmed via documents accessed through a Freedom of Information request and first published by The Guardian newspaper. The museum did not rule out taking sponsorship money from BP or other fossil fuel producers in the future.

The open letter reads: “Over the 27 years that BP was a sponsor of the British Museum, it lobbied against crucial climate legislation, funded industry groups that spread disinformation, and profited from close ties to repressive rulers in countries such as Russia and Egypt. The British Museum continued to partner with BP even as its oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, while its gas flaring caused toxic pollution for communities in Iraq.”

BP has previously admitted that its total carbon emissions are set to increase until at least 2030, while announcing plans for further deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Under Fischer’s direction, the British Museum has published the so-called “masterplan” which pledges to make the institution “a net zero carbon museum—no longer a destination for climate protest but instead an example of climate solution”.

July 2023 was the world’s hottest month on record, with wildfires breaking out in countries including Greece, Italy and the US. Scientists have attributed the heatwaves to human-made global heating.

In March 2022, the British Museum joined a host of other cultural institutions in removing the Sackler family name from galleries and rooms it has supported. In doing so, the museum has distanced itself from the family accused of profiting from the US opioids crisis via their ownership of the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma.

At the time of writing, the British Museum has declined to provide a statement on the BP Lecture Theatre letter, following a request from The Art Newspaper.

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