A Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft built by UK weapons maker BAE Systems. Photo: Skynews.

Arms Manufacturer Withdraws Sponsorship from England’s Great Exhibition, Following Protests

The British arms manufacturer BAE Systems withdrew its sponsorship of the upcoming cultural festival the Great Exhibition of the North on Wednesday, following protests by numerous artists. The defense company has been targeted by activists ever since the government-backed festival announced that BAE would be its lead sponsor earlier this month. The news caused artists, including singer-songwriter Nadine Shah, to boycott the event.

“I am disgusted to hear of their involvement and refuse to be in any way associated with them,” Shah wrote on Twitter. “I encourage all artists involved to follow suit.”

Art Not Arms, a “coalition of artists and cultural workers,” launched an online petition demanding that the organizers of the event end its controversial partnership with BAE and accused the company of “artwashing on a grand scale.” The group cited BAE’s “profiteering from the deaths of innocent children” in the ongoing war in Yemen as one of the main reasons for its opposition to the sponsorship. The petition has been endorsed by more than 2,300 signatories.

As public criticism of the sponsorship mounted, the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead, two cultural centers that will present concerts, exhibitions, and other programming as part of the event, have attempted to distance themselves from the exhibition. In a joint statement, Sarah Munro, the director of BALTIC, and Abigail Pogson, the managing director of Sage Gateshead, said: “We wish to reassure our artists, partners and stakeholders that Arts Council England funds are supporting the delivery of our artistic content, including the concerts, exhibitions and offsite commissions presented by BALTIC and Sage Gateshead. We are not in receipt of funds from BAE Systems.”

After it decided to pull out, BAE issued the following statement: “While BAE Systems remains supportive of the aims of the Great Exhibition we have decided to redirect our support to other initiatives better suited to both our skills and innovation objectives and in support of the industrial strategy of the North of England.” 

In response, a spokesperson for the exhibition said: “We accept and respect BAE Systems’ decision. Working with all of our partners, funders, supporters and contributors, we remain focussed on delivering a successful event which will shine a spotlight on the North’s great art and culture, design and innovation.”

The eleven-week festival, which takes place in Newcastle and Gateshead, is a celebration of Northern England's technological innovation, art, design, and culture. It will receive more than $6 million in funding from the UK and will run from June 22 to September 9.