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Campaigners celebrate as Science Museum drops Shell as sponsor



Today, campaigners revealed that the Science Museum’s controversial sponsorship deal with Shell will end this December. In response to a Freedom of Information request from BP or not BP?, the museum confirmed that it “…does not have plans to renew its existing sponsorship deal or initiate a new deal or funding agreement with Royal Dutch Shell.”

The partnership came under scrutiny earlier this year when BP or not BP? uncovered emails showing that Shell’s staff had attempted to influence the museum’s “Atmosphere” climate science exhibition. Anti-oil-sponsorship campaigners have welcomed the news, but today announced that they would hold a protest inside the museum against the museum’s continuing partnership with BP.

Chris Garrard from BP or not BP?, said: “Shell should never have been allowed to sponsor an exhibition on climate science. It’s no secret that Shell relentlessly lobbies against measures to tackle climate change – but the Science Museum went ahead with this ill-advised deal nonetheless. This is a step in the right direction, but the museum needs to stop legitimising the fossil fuel industry completely by ditching its deal with BP too.”

Shell was a sponsor of the museum’s “Launchpad” space from 2007-2010 and then became a sponsor of the climate science exhibition, “Atmosphere”, for 2010-2015, in return for just £200,000 per year. This represented roughly 0.25% of the Science Museum’s income in that period. Shell’s emails to the museum asked for a discussion event on climate change to be made “invite-only”, in order to avoid criticism of its operations, and for the wording of some exhibition labels to be altered.

BP is currently the sponsor of the Science Museum’s “Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age” exhibition. On Sunday 22ndNovember, the Progressive Science Institute and BP or not BP? will join forces to hold a “guerrilla conference” inside the museum, exposing the ills of oil sponsorship. BP also co-hosts “The Ultimate STEM Challenge” with the Science Museum, a competition where schoolchildren are invited to undertake BP-themed challenges, such as finding the design for the “most efficient [oil] tanker”.

Dr Alice Bell, former Science Museum employee and science policy campaigner, said: “As a very junior member of staff at the Science Museum back in the 00s, I remember several of us feeling uncomfortable with the BP and Shell logos around our galleries. This sort of conflict of interest would be shocking if it was a newspaper or TV show – it’s hard to imagine how the museum can expect the public to trust them.

“The most worrying thing is how this sort of sponsorship can buy companies a lack of scrutiny. Shell and BP shouldn’t be sponsoring climate and energy galleries, they should be exhibits in them – historical artefacts to be unpicked and understood. The history of the oil industry helped shape the world we live in – for good and bad – and it’s exactly the sort of thing the museum should be interrogating and sharing with the world.”  

On 6th November, the Museums Association approved a new set of ethical guidelines at its annual conference, which will require museums and galleries to ensure that sponsors share the institution’s “ethical values”. It follows an escalation of creative protests in recent years at cultural institutions that accept oil sponsorship money.

BP currently sponsors the Tate, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Opera House as part of a block five-year deal, one that campaigners are pushing to be dropped when it expires in 2017. The PCS Union, which represents workers at many oil-sponsored cultural institutions including the Science Museum, passed a motion in May at their annual conference to formally oppose oil sponsorship.