Corporate Sponsorship Of The Arts: Double-Double Oil Is Trouble
10th December, 2012
Following my recent visit to the Tate Britain, sponsored by BP, I wanted to delve further into the energy giant’s return to the media spotlight after outlining its controversial plans to continue funding the arts. The company has reiterated that it wishes to use sponsorship, alongside advertising, as a tool to improve brand reputation. Since 2010, BP have been haunted with repercussions within the media, being named, shamed and fined ($4.5bn to be exact). Now, almost 3 years later, the company has emphasised that after its hiatus from the media, it wishes to increase its social responsibility initiatives, returning with a campaign showcasing contributions the company makes to society; all in the hope that it will ‘make people feel more positive’ about the brand.
To do this, BP intends to build upon its long-standing cultural sponsorships that were renewed last December with the Royal Opera House, British Museum, The National Portrait Gallery and the Tate. Yet one year on, despite BP’s hopes, protests are still occurring across the Capital.
Only a few weeks ago, the ‘Reclaim Shakespeare Company,’ protested outside the British Museum to intervene in the BP-sponsored exhibition ‘Shakespeare: Staging the World.’ Indeed, BP is not the only oil giant receiving criticism; Shell’s sponsorship of London’s South Bank Centre, and Lundin Petroleum’s sponsorship of the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo have both been under media fire. In light of these protests, I want to raise the question, will there always be cynicism attached to sponsorships of this nature or can brands such as BP do more to demonstrate the benefits of their funding?
The rationale behind the cynicism shown by protestors is by no means unreasonable. BP caused a disaster, and the damage that was created is irreparable but should this still be associated with their philanthropic initiatives? The brand is coming into its 21st year sponsoring the Tate and 11th year sponsoring some of the other most treasured cultural landmarks in the UK. Through their continued funding, the British Museum is able to further cultural programmes, and the Tate Britain, for example, is able to extend it’s access to wider audiences (the Tate alone attracts 5 million visitors each year).
There is no doubt that BP’s decision to continue its various cultural sponsorships is driven by the motive of improving brand perception via ‘contributions to society’. Whilst this could be, and is by many, perceived as a way of averting attention from BP’s previous mistakes, there is no denying that the money donated through these cultural sponsorships supports the sustainability of British cultural heritage. Indeed, the arts have endured serious government funding cuts over recent years, with a call from many, including the National’s Nicholas Hytner, for the government to reconsider its decisions. Only last week, it was announced that the Newcastle City Council plans to cut its entire arts budget, with landmarks such as The Sage and Baltic Gallery wondering what to do next. So long as this continues to be the case, cultural institutions such as these will have to consider alternative sources for revenue, Corporate sponsorship being one of them, and I’m all for it.