Artists slam BP sponsorship of National Portrait Gallery in open letter

A group of acclaimed international artists has signed an open letter to the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London protesting its sponsorship by oil giant BP.

Addressed to the NPG’s director, Nicholas Cullinan, the letter was penned by artist Gary Hume and signed by 78 artists including Turner Prize winners Rachel Whiteread and Anish Kapoor. It decries BP’s role in ‘furthering the climate crisis’ and calls on the NPG not to renew its contract with the oil and gas producer when it expires in 2022. The letter also asks the Gallery to seek alternative funding for its annual Portrait Award, which BP has sponsored for 30 years and to remove the BP representative from the judging panel for the award.

This is not the first time BP’s sponsorship of the NPG has been challenged. In 2017, campaign group Culture Unstained submitted a formal complaint to the NPG. The complaint argued the renewal of the sponsorship contract with BP breached a key clause on human rights in the Gallery’s ‘Ethical Fundraising Policy’. The NPG dismissed the complaint and removed the human rights clause from its policy.

In a statement to artnet News, Cullinan said the NPG continually aims to find new corporate funding partners but that ‘attracting new sponsorship is challenging in the current economic conditions’. Cullinan added that the NPG depends on funding from a ‘wide range of corporate partners’ for its Portrait Award as only one third of the Gallery’s budget derives from government funding. A representative from BP told artnet News that BP’s ‘long-term support enables our partners to plan engaging, educational, and powerful exhibitions and performances’.

The open letter states that ‘the loss of BP as a source of funding is a cost worth bearing’ to protect the planet from the devastating effects of climate change and to enable ‘future generations to make art in a world that resembles our own’.

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