Climate Activists Occupy Tate Modern in Dramatic Protest over BP Sponsorship of the Arts

Will Tate renew its sponsorship deal with BP next year?

A woman holds a placard outside the Tate Britain after protesters belonging to a group of artists calling themselves 'The Good Crude Britannia', who wants the Tate to cut its ties with British Petroleum (BP). Photo credit Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images.

On Saturday, activists occupied Tate Modern and staged a 25-hour “textual intervention” at the museum’s Turbine Hall to protest against Tate’s ongoing sponsorship agreement with BP.

The protest performance consisted of covering the sprawling hall with quotes from books about, and reports on, climate change—including Margaret Atwood’s sci-fi novel Oryx and Crake, the UN’s latest climate science report, and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate—which participants wrote with charcoal on the concrete floor.

“We’re filling the Turbine Hall with a tide of ideas and narratives of art, activism, climate change, and oil,” Eva Blackwell, of the arts activism group Liberate Tate, told the Guardian.

Since beginning its crusade to rid Tate of its association with BP back in 2010, Liberate Tate has staged a total of 14 performances at Tate Modern and Tate Britain, including pouring oil on a naked man (see Liberate Tate Plans Mass Protest Over BP Sponsorship) and tossing £240,000 in fake money notes from Tate Britain’s members room to the main entrance.

Liberate Tate stages a protest at Tate Britain (2011)<br>Photo: Amy Scaife Courtesy Corbis

Liberate Tate stages a protest at Tate Britain (2011)
Photo: Amy Scaife Courtesy Corbis

Some of these performances were announced to Tate in advance, while others—like this weekend’s—weren’t. Tate has traditionally tolerated the group’s performances, but this last one involved staying overnight in the museum and disregarding the official opening hours.

“At around 10pm, which is when Tate Modern closes on Saturdays, a group of Tate staff approached us and invited us to leave, and threatened to call the police if we didn’t,” Anna Galkina, from the activist group Platform and one of the participants in the action, told artnet News in a phone call.

“After a while, seeing that we wouldn’t leave, they allowed us to spend the night in the museum and didn’t call the police,” Galkina told artnet News.

“We were a group of around 20 participants. The following morning, they closed the public access to the area where we were, but visitors could still see our action from the balcony. We left at around noon, at the cleaning machines started wiping out the texts soon after.”

“Oil companies like BP are trying to carry on pretending it’s business as usual, but time is running out to act on climate change,” protester Yasmin de Silva told the Guardian. “We’re already seeing the impact of climate change globally, and companies, foundations, and institutions around the world are turning away from the fossil fuel industry that’s driving us to climate disaster,” she declared.

In January, after a bitter legal battle over a freedom of information request by Liberate Tate and Platform, Tate was forced to reveal the scale of BP’s support, disclosing that, between 1990 and 2006, it received between £150,000 and £330,000 per year from BP, a mere 0.5 percent of the institution’s annual budget (see Tate’s Hotly Contested BP Sponsorship Is Laughably Small).

“We know how much Tate has received from BP historically, but still don’t know how much it is receiving right now,” Galkina told arnet News. “Tate is supposed to make the decision on whether to continue its sponsorship deal with BP around late 2015, or early 2016, so this performance was a way to make sure they know they are still being watched.”

Protesters participating in the 25-hour “textual intervention” against BP at Tate Modern this weekend<br>Photo via: Twitter @liberatetate

Protesters participating in the 25-hour “textual intervention” against BP at Tate Modern this weekend
Photo via: Twitter @liberatetate

Tate is not the only museum tackling budget cuts with the help of sponsorship deals from oil companies. London’s institutions like the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Science Museum all have deals with oil companies (see Emails Reveal Shell Attempted to Influence Climate-Change Program at London’s Science Museum).

Representatives from Tate weren’t immediately available when contacted by artnet News for comment.

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