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Troy story: corporate sponsorship row at museum

Stories of Achilles and Helen could be overshadowed by involvement of oil company BP

05 November, 2019 — By The Xtra Diary

Filippo Albacini’s The Wounded Achilles

THE treasures of ancient Troy are set to be the centrepiece of a new exhibition at the British Museum.

But the stories of Achilles and Helen – and of course a giant wooden horse – could be overshadowed by a drama that’s brewing over the continued sponsorship of one-off exhibitions at the Bloomsbury institute by polluting firms – in this case, oil company BP.

Word has it that campaign group BP Or Not BP are planning to wheel a giant Trojan Horse up to the Bloomsbury museum on the exhibition opening date in a fortnight’s time to show their displeasure.

Their protest is backed by pressure group Culture Unstained, which seeks to help bodies free themselves from unethical sponsorship.

Co-director Jess Worth told Diary they had a series of questions for the museum’s board as to how they could accept funding from an industry killing the planet.

She said: “Is there proper scrutiny? Who makes the decisions? What determines good practice with corporate sponsorship? What standards should they be looking to uphold? What do regulatory bodies have to say? Are there industries or sectors you wouldn’t take money from? We are arguing that fossil fuel companies should be seen as beyond the pale, like tobacco or arms firms.”

She added that Culture Unstained sought to work with people within museums, galleries, theatre and elsewhere to give them a voice to hold their institutes to account.

“Many staff are deeply uncomfortable with having their cultural bodies associated with major oil companies,” she said.

With 10 years of austerity, many museums are feeling the squeeze: the British Museum recently announced it would close the Paul Hamlyn Library, a research centre that has more than 50,000 books, including works that tell the story of the museum’s collections, dating from 1762.

They blamed a 15 per cent cut in grants. But Culture Unstained research shows getting into bed with climate wreckers isn’t an answer. Figures reveal that while BP gets its name associated with a major institution – and has its logo across their literature – the sponsorship amounts to very little in terms of the BM’s annual budget, coming in at well under 1 per cent.

When the Troy exhibition was announced, museum director Hartwig Fischer stated: “We are grateful to @BP_plc for their ongoing support without which important exhibitions such as these would simply not be possible.”

Simply not true, say Culture Unstained, a view backed by BP Or Not BP spokeswoman Sarah Horne.

She said: “It’s deeply ironic that BP is sponsoring an exhibition called Troy: Myth And Reality, because this sponsorship deal is essentially a Trojan horse for BP’s real activities.

“Just like in the myth, BP pretends that it’s giving us a gift, when in reality it’s trying to smuggle its deadly climate-wrecking business plans past the public’s defences.”

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