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New Trove of Documents Highlights BP’s Undue Influence on UK Museums, Critics Claim

The Art Not Oil Coalition—an alliance of groups that organizes campaigns protesting British oil company BP’s sponsorship of cultural institutions—has obtained and released internal documents that appear to show several institutions including the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, and the Tate accommodating demands made by the commercial sponsor, Terry Macalister of The Guardian reports.

The Museums Association is conducting an investigation into Art Not Oil’s claims that the museums involved have allowed BP to influence their curatorial decision-making, development of security strategies, and planning of opportunities to meet with policymakers.

According to a report compiled by Art Not Oil, BP’s CEO Bob Dudley said that the oil company would “support British arts and culture with no strings attached.” However, the heavily redacted documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show numerous examples of questionable correspondence between BP and the UK institutions.

The documents reveal that BP has hosted meetings for the institutions’ staff so that the oil company could coordinate the management of anti-BP protests. BP also gave the British Museum additional funding so that it could organize a Day of the Dead festival in celebration of Mexican culture. The festival allowed BP to gain access to Mexico’s ambassador, enabling the oil firm to pursue company interests. In 2015, in an email from the British Museum to BP, a staff member asked a BP official for the green light regarding the inclusion of a work in the museum’s Indigenous Australia exhibition at a time when BP was applying to drill in the country.

A member of the British Museum’s staff who wished to remain unnamed said that BP has been “extremely demanding of the museum” and called their tactics “bullying.”

The oil company had initiated a sponsorship plan of cultural institutions in the UK to help repair its reputation after it was found at fault in the 2010 offshore rig explosion that killed eleven people and dumped roughly 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. BP is required to pay a $20 billion settlement for the environmental and economic damage it caused.

BP’s sponsorship deal with the British Museum, the Royal Opera House, Tate, and the National Gallery are supposed to end this year. In March 2016, Tate announced BP’s sponsorship will not be renewed. The other three institutions have not revealed whether they will continue their partnerships.