London’s National Portrait Gallery ends BP sponsorship after 30 years

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London is ending its partnership with British Petroleum (BP) after more than 30 years, ending the oil company’s controversial sponsorship of the gallery’s annual exhibition Portrait Award. BP has sponsored the award since 1990.”[The partnership] will not be renewed when the current agreement ends on [close] this year,” a BP spokesperson said.

The move sparks further debate over the sponsorship of fossil fuels at Britain’s major cultural institutions, after protesters staged a mock ‘Stonehenge drilling’ presentation earlier this week at the British Museum amid speculation that the BM could extend his sponsorship deal with BP.

In 2020, BP decided to withdraw from the jury of the BP Portrait Award which is held at the National Portrait Gallery; the company had been represented on the jury for 23 years. The BP Portrait Award is not staged in 2021 and 2022 while the National Portrait Gallery building in St Martin’s Place is closed for a £35.5million redevelopment.

Nicholas Cullinan, Director of NPG, said in a statement:[BP’s] Prize funding has fostered creativity, encouraged portrait painting for over 30 years and given a platform to artists around the world, while inspiring and entertaining audiences across the UK. Louise Kingham, BP’s senior vice president for Europe and UK country lead, said: “As we get to net zero by 2050 and help the world get there too, we must seek new ways to best use our talent, experience and resources.

But campaigners at ethical sponsorship Culture Unstained believe there are other reasons behind the end of the partnership. “While the [NPG] won’t say it out loud, this is clearly a vote of no confidence in BP’s activities,” says Jess Worth, co-director of Culture Unstained. “The company has spent 30 years painting itself an image as a responsible philanthropist, but is quickly 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 collapse.” BP has been contacted for further comment.

Another activist group, BP or not BP?, which has organized many “creative actions” at the NPG, says it is “delighted” with today’s announcement. “There is no way our national cultural institutions are legitimizing oil companies in the midst of a climate crisis. This is the latest big victory for the movement against fossil fuel sponsorship,” says BP member Bayryam Bayryamali or not BP?

The two groups say the news puts pressure on other institutions, including the British Museum and the Science Museum, to follow suit and “get on the right side of history”.

Julia P. Cluff