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National Portrait Gallery and BP end 30-year partnership

BP and the National Portrait Gallery have announced the end of their partnership following sustained criticism and protests from climate activists and artists.

The oil and gas company has sponsored the London gallery’s annual Portrait Award for more than 30 years. However, the culture organisation has faced mounting pressure to end the relationship from those against fossil fuel funding.

In 2020, artist Gary Hume spoke out against the sponsorship while being a judge of the annual portrait prize. Acknowledging that BP had stepped down from the judging panel for that year, Hume called the move “pleasing but paltry”.

“The NPG should have bitten the bullet and used the opportunity of the prize going digital and the gallery closing for three years to cut its ties with BP, following the lead of other cultural institutions,” he said at the time.

The year before, Hume led a group of artists in writing an open letter to the gallery’s director, Nicholas Cullinan, calling for a complete end to bp involvement in the organisation.

“Either we distance ourselves from one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers and embrace the challenge of decarbonising, or we continue to give legitimacy to bp and its business activities that are seriously exacerbating the problem,” they wrote.

Responding to the end of the sponsorship, activist group Culture Unstained have claimed that the end of this collaboration is proof of the gallery no longer standing behind the business.

Artist Gary Hume has been a prominent voice speaking out against the relationship between BP and National Portrait Gallery

(AFP via Getty Images)

“While the Gallery won’t say it out loud, this is clearly a vote of no confidence in BP’s business,” said group co-director Jess Worth.

“The company spent 30 years painting a picture of itself as a responsible philanthropist but it is rapidly running out of places to clean up its toxic image.”

The gallery’s director, Nicholas Cullinan said he was “grateful” for the oil and gas company’s support, before confirming that the Portrait Award would be moving forward separately.

“The Gallery is committed to working with artists and continuing to promote portraiture and we look forward to developing the future Portrait Award as we plan for our reopening in 2023,” he said in a statement.

Elsewhere, bp’s Senior Vice President (UK) Louise Kingham CBE said that the company was “proud” of their position in British arts and culture, but was prepared to make a change as: “the bp of today is a very different company from when we first started our partnership with the National Portrait Gallery.

“As we transition to become net-zero by 2050 and help the world get there too, we must look at new ways to best use our talent, experience, and resources.”

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