End of BP sponsorship of the National Portrait Gallery

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The National Portrait Gallery announced in February that its relationship with energy giant BP would soon come to an end. The oil and gas company is a major sponsor of the London-based gallery. This decision comes after several years of demonstrations organized to underline the opposition to the methods of financing of the gallery. BP has been putting the money in to fund the gallery’s world-renowned portrait award for the past three decades, so the decision to drop the business as a corporate sponsor is a big step for the gallery. Nonetheless, some have viewed the National Portrait Gallery’s association and dependence with an oil exploration and extraction company as unsustainable in the 21st century in light of the global climate emergency.

Indeed, three years ago, some of the gallery’s former portrait prize winners were among a large group of artists who publicly said the institution’s board should sever ties with BP. . At the time, some climate change protesters made their point literally by covering themselves in oil at the gallery. One of the pressure groups that have campaigned for years for the National Portrait Gallery to disassociate itself from BP, Culture Unstained, welcomed the news. In a statement, he said the move was “a major victory” for the broader campaign in the arts and culture sectors against fossil fuel corporate sponsorship.


Speaking on behalf of the National Portrait Gallery, Nicholas Cullinan, its director, said he was very grateful to BP for its support going back more than 30 years. According to him, the funding helped foster creativity and encouraged artists to paint portraits. “[The prize]…has been a platform for artists around the world,” he said. Praising BP’s involvement, Cullinan added that their sponsorship helped provide inspiration that meant greater enjoyment for art lovers across the country.

Nevertheless, it was already known that the BP Portrait Award would not be staged in 2022 – following a similar decision last year – due to the closure of the central London gallery for redevelopment. Instead, it is understood that money from BP’s sponsorship is used in other areas of the gallery’s work before its planned reopening in 2023. However, the portrait award will not be named after BP. next year as the sponsorship of the oil and gas company will come to an end in December. The current sponsorship contract will no longer be renewed. However, the National Portrait Gallery has not disclosed whether it has a sponsor in place who could replace the one it had.


For its part, BP said it will look for new ways to best use its resources, experience and talent to help it achieve its goal of net zero by 2050. Louise Kingham, executive of the business, said BP was proud to have championed British arts and culture for so long and that the business looked very different today from when it began its relationship with the gallery. For example, BP has said it wants to halve the carbon intensity of the products it sells by mid-century or sooner.

However, such goals were not enough to convince activists or some famous artists of his continued financial relationship with art institutions. In the past, many artists have signed letters stipulating that the gallery should no longer do business with BP. Some of the more notable names included Sir Antony Gormley, Rachel Whiteread, Anish Kapoor and Sarah Lucas, among others. Such public pressure has worked before. For example, in 2019, the Royal Shakespeare Company decided to no longer continue its partnership with BP. Two years earlier, the gallery group Tate had also cut ties with the firm. Nevertheless, BP still enjoys sponsorship rights with the British Museum and the Royal Opera House in London.

About the Author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and culture sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations that are willing to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

Julia P. Cluff