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Turner Contemporary in Margate.
Turner Contemporary in Margate.

Stagecoach Withdraws Sponsorship of Turner Prize Following Backlash

When Tate Britain announced the four artists who were shortlisted for the Turner Prize, the UK’s most prestigious contemporary art award, at a press conference on Wednesday, it also revealed a controversial partnership with Stagecoach South East, which is chaired by Brian Souter, a known campaigner against LGBTQ rights. The news of the local bus company’s sponsorship sparked a public outcry, which led the Tate and Stagecoach to part ways the following day.

According to The Guardian, arts professionals, including former winners of the Turner Prize, were preparing an open letter protesting Stagecoach’s involvement with the award and exhibition. In 2000, Souter, a Scottish businessman and philanthropist, gave $1.3 million to maintain section 28, legislation that banned the “promoting” of homosexuality. The law was introduced by the conservative government under Margaret Thatcher in 1988 and was repealed in Scotland on June 21, 2001 and in the rest of the UK on November 18, 2003.

“Surely there must be other less tainted potential sponsors?,” gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said to The Telegraph. “The arts is an LGBT-friendly profession and should not be colluding with companies whose leaders support homophobic discrimination.”

When criticism of the sponsorship began to mount, Stagecoach issued a statement that said the company “does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind based on disability, gender, gender re-assignment, sexual orientation, religion, belief, age, nationality, race or ethnic origin. Our Stagecoach culture values transparency, diversity, and respect. We expect our employees to commit to doing the right thing, to respect other individuals at all times and treat them with dignity, and thoughtfulness, and we are committed to providing equal opportunities for all.”

Commenting on the decision to drop the sponsor, the Tate released the following statement: “Turner Contemporary and Tate’s highest priority is to show and celebrate artists and their work. The Turner prize celebrates the creative freedoms of the visual arts community and our wider society. By mutual agreement, we will not proceed with Stagecoach South East’s sponsorship of this year’s prize.”

This year’s Turner Prize nominees are Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo, and Tai Shani. An exhibition of their work will open at Turner Contemporary in Margate on September 28, and the winner of the $33,000 award will be announced at a ceremony that will be broadcast by BBC on December 3.