Protests over Shell sponsorship of National Gallery
The official launch of the National Gallery’s Shell-sponsored Rembrandt exhibition was interrupted yesterday by a musical protest.
Oil sponsorship, Rembrandt & the National Gallery from rikki on Vimeo.
The groups BP or not BP? and Shell Out Sounds performed a reworked musical version of Dr Faustus which featured a gallery director selling his soul to an oily, Shell-branded devil, and singing about his desire to outsource the majority of his staff. The performance was accompanied by a banner reading 'Art For People Not Profit'.
The new Rembrandt exhibition is sponsored by Shell, a company facing heavy criticism for its destructive extraction activities and contribution to climate change. In addition, the exhibition will be entirely staffed by a private security firm rather than the gallery’s own staff. Staff at the gallery are also facing the threat of large-scale privatisation which could see up to two-thirds of workers’ roles outsourced to private companies.
PCS Union members at the gallery will be part of a national civil servants’ strike today over pay, conditions, and privatisation of public services. On the same day, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation will be in court in Canada to challenge Shell’s legal right to expand their polluting tar sands operations on indigenous land.
There is increasing international pressure on public institutions to sever their ties with the fossil fuel industry. The rapidly-growing fossil fuel divestment movement has seen the World Council of Churches, the British Medical Association and even the Rockefeller Foundation pull their money out of the fossil fuel industry. Last week, Glasgow University became the first university in Europe to divest from fossil fuels, and Lego dropped Shell as a sponsor following a high-profile Greenpeace campaign.
Clara Paillard, President of the PCS Culture Sector, said: “Privatisation and sponsorship by oil companies are two sides of the same coin: it is about the ongoing sell-off of public services, including museums and galleries. It is about exploiting workers for corporate profit. PCS believes austerity is not the only show in town and that proper public investment in arts and culture is in fact beneficial to the economy.”
Rhiannon Kelly from BP or not BP? said: “Arts institutions like the National Gallery receive just a small percentage of their funding from corporate sponsors like Shell, but these corporations receive a large amount of branding and kudos in return. We know the National Gallery can make ethical funding decisions if it chooses to – it dropped the arms company Finmeccanica in 2012 following public protests. Shell may need the arts to prop up its tarnished brand, but the arts do not need Shell.”
BP or not BP? and Shell Out Sounds plan to return to the gallery tomorrow for a public protest outside Shell’s corporate “gala evening” for special guests and senior staff. Over 80 people have already pledged to attend the protest, which is being co-hosted by Art Not Oil, Shell Out Sounds, BP or not BP?, Platform, the UK Tar Sands Network, and Christian Climate Action.
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