Emails Reveal Shell Attempted to Influence Climate-Change Program at London’s Science Museum

The director of the Science Museum denies the accusations.

The Science Museum, London Photo: Christine Matthews via Wikimedia Commons

Officials at London’s publicly funded Science Museum are under pressure after an email exchange with sponsor Shell suggested that the Anglo-Dutch oil corporation tried to influence the curatorial program at the institution, the Guardian reports.

The emails reveal that Shell’s climate change advisor and former oil trader David Hone made curatorial recommendations for the museum’s Atmosphere, Exploring Climate Science gallery and Climate Changing program.

The Science Museum stands accused of letting Shell curate its climate change exhibitions. Photo: wanderinggaia

London’s Science Museum stands accused of letting Shell influence its climate change program.
Photo: wanderinggaia

An email from a Shell employee dated May 8, 2014, reads: “Regards the rubbish archive project [an interactive exhibition examining waste in the context of climate change], xxx and I have some concerns on this exhibition particularly as it creates an opportunity for NGOs to talk about some of the issues that concern them around Shell’s operations.”

The employee adds: “Could you please share more information with us on the symposium event planned for September? As you know we receive a great deal of interest around our art sponsorships so need to ensure we do not proactively open up a debate on the topic. Will it be an invite only event?”

“Regarding the gallery update, can I check whether you have touched base with David Hone to see if he would like to participate in the content refresh?,” the email ends.

The embarrassing revelations raise serious questions over the influence that corporate sponsors have over the impartiality of publicly funded institutions meant to be a source of public reference and learning.

“These emails reveal that the Science Museum is a significant cog in Shell’s propaganda machine,” Chris Garrard, of the anti oil pressure-group BP or not BP?, told the Guardian.

“As with all of our exhibitions and galleries, the editorial vision and control sits with our curatorial team,” Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum, said on Sunday, in response to the allegations. He insisted that “not a single change to an exhibition resulted from these email exchanges.”

Protestors from the pressure group Liberate Tate, protest against BP's sponsorship of the Tate Museum, London Photo: Liberate Tate

Protestors from the pressure group Liberate Tate, protest against BP’s sponsorship of Tate
Photo: Liberate Tate

Pundits have criticized oil companies for adopting arts sponsorship strategies to improve their reputation and detract from the environmental ramifications of their business (see Tate Has 35 Days to Disclose BP Sponsorship FiguresArtists Call on National Portrait Gallery to Drop BP Sponsorship and Artist Kurt Perschke Accuses Oil Giant Shell of Stealing His Ideas)


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