With growing calls by activists for arts institutions to take accountability for their connections to funders with ecologically unfriendly businesses, one major London center has dropped a controversial sponsor. The Southbank Centre, which comprises the Hayward Gallery, the Royal Festival Hall, the National Poetry Library, and other cultural venues, will end its corporate membership deal with Shell. The British Film Institute has also declined to renew its contract with the oil company.
According to a report by the Guardian, the Southbank Centre had maintained a relationship with Shell since 2006. A spokesperson for Shell told the publication that the decision to end its membership deals with the two institutions was “mutual” and said that the arrangements were “collectively worth around £20,000.”
The move follows recent steps toward divestment from oil companies by other British institutions, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Tate museum network, and the National Galleries of Scotland. The British Museum has remained a site of protest due to its ongoing relationship with BP, and the activist group BP or Not BP staged a weekend-long intervention at the institution in February.
Harriet Finney, director of external affairs at the BFI, told the Guardian that the institution is “committed to supporting a sustainable future,” adding that it is exploring “how we can better support the UK’s screen industries to move towards sustainable practice and how we respond culturally to the climate and ecological emergency.”
In a post on its website, the organization Culture Unstained, which is dedicated to ending oil sponsorships at cultural institutions, called the conclusion of Southbank Centre and BFI’s relationships with Shell “a major win for the campaign against oil sponsorship.”
Chris Garrard, co-director of Culture Unstained, said in a statement that “Shell has pursued a business plan that has trampled Indigenous peoples’ rights and pushed the world deeper into climate crisis, while sponsoring its cultural neighbors in a cynical attempt to deflect attention from the damage it was causing. But with mounting pressure from artists, workers and the public these partnerships have stopped helping Shell launder its image and instead shone a spotlight on its climate crashing activities.”