The Arctic exhibition displays prehistoric treasures uncovered from the thawing Siberian ice. Credit: Kilii Yuyan

BP not frozen out of Arctic exhibition, says British Museum

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 10.01.2020
Museum’s decision not use BP as sponsor described as ‘cynical attempt to dodge scrutiny’
The British Museum (BM) says there have been no changes to its relationship with BP, in spite of media reports suggesting the museum had decided to “freeze out” the oil giant as a sponsor for its Arctic: culture and climate exhibition. 

The exhibition, which opens to the public in May, is sponsored by CitiGroup, the US investment bank. A report in the Sunday Times said the British Museum had bypassed BP “amid fierce criticism of its links with the fossil fuel industry”.

However the BM told Museums Journal that the suggestion that BP had been bypassed was incorrect. According to a spokeswoman, the institution has longstanding corporate partnerships with BP and CitiGroup, with the firms sponsoring one exhibition a year each.

CitiGroup had expressed particular interest in sponsoring the Arctic exhibition this year, she said. 

The blockbuster exhibition will display archaeological finds excavated from thawing ice in Siberia, including 28,000-year-old sewing needles and jewellery made of walrus and mammoth ivory, on loan from the Russian Academy of Science. It will draw explicit links between the emergence of these objects and the climate crisis. 

The BM said: “Arctic: culture and climate is the first exhibition to look at the circumpolar region through the eyes of contemporary Arctic communities, revealing how Arctic peoples have adapted to climate variability in the past. It will address the global issue of changing climate through their stories in a transforming world. We are grateful to all sponsors who support our exhibition programme, these large-scale and ambitious projects are not possible without their support.”

Anti-fossil fuel activists have continued their criticism of the museum following the announcement of the exhibition details this week.

Chris Garrard, the co-director of the campaign group Culture Unstained, told Museums Journal: “By keeping BP’s logo away from its ‘Arctic: culture and climate’ exhibition, the British Museum is accepting that its oil sponsor has a dire record on climate change that would overshadow the exhibition’s aims. But this is a cynical attempt by the museum to dodge further scrutiny of its BP partnership, a sign that it is only prepared to save face rather than show leadership. 

“While the museum’s decision-makers pick and choose when to take the climate crisis seriously, indigenous communities in the Arctic and the Global South have been leading the struggle against the fossil fuel industry for decades.”

Garrard pointed out that CitiGroup is also a major investor in fossil fuel infrastructure, including the Dakota Access Pipeline that has been heavily opposed by indigenous groups in the US. 

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