National Portrait Gallery under fire for award sponsor’s fossil fuel ties

The National Portrait Gallery has been criticised for its decision to replace its former BP portrait award with a Herbert Smith Freehills portrait prize.

The gallery cut its ties with BP after 30 years, following criticism of its links with the fossil fuel company.

However, campaigners have called out the institution for its new connection with large law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, highlighting that the law firm works with fossil fuel clients.

Co-director of campaign and research group Culture Unstained Chris Garrard told Sustainability Beat: “From the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Van Gogh Museum, cultural organisations in the UK are roundly rejecting sponsorship deals with big polluters like BP and Shell.”

“But these fossil fuel corporations don’t act in isolation – they rely upon willing financiers, insurers and law firms to enable them to forge ahead with the new rigs, refineries and pipelines that push the world deeper into climate crisis,” he continued.

He added that although “cultural institutions continue to face big funding pressures and we need better state funding”, it may be a case of needing to “step up the scrutiny of those sponsors who — rather than genuinely seeking to support the arts – are paying for somewhere to deflect attention from the planet-wrecking parts of their business plans”.

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In a particularly high profile move the British Museum cut its ties with BP earlier this year (the institution had seen many protests over the link).

Other art institutions that have dropped their ties with fossil fuels include the Tate, the Royal Opera House and the Southbank Centre.

The LGBT Awards also dropped its association with Shell and BP this summer after top names including Joe Lycett pulled out of the event.

The Church of England Pension Fund also divested from Shell after many years due to CEO Wael Sawan abandoning plans to cut oil production to be in line with the Paris Agreement to keep emissions at less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

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