Liberate Tate's performance against Deepwater Horizon
Liberate Tate’s performance against Deepwater Horizon

Six years after starting a campaign to kick fossil fuel sponsorship out of cultural and arts institutions in the UK, activists from the collective, Liberate Tate, will be touring the US this month.

Over the last six years, the activists have taken the idea of ending fossil fuel funding of the arts and turned it into a highly successful campaign, which is underpinned by creative and iconic “deliberately disruptive” performance art.

They have targeted such iconic institutions as the Tate Modern, British Museum, and the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Liberate Tate says it seeks to “free the arts from oil because the oil industry uses its association with institutions to create a guise of social acceptability.” It believes “there should be no cultural sponsorship by oil companies in a time of climate change”.

Performances have included spilling oil-like substances, installing a 16.5m wind turbine blade in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, occupying the gallery overnight in a durational performance transcribing texts in charcoal onto the gallery floor, and giving permanent climate tattoos live to volunteers.

After years of protest, in a significant victory the globally renowned arts institution, the Tate, stated it would end its long-term partnership with BP next year. Not long after the Edinburgh International Festival also dumped BP too.

The British Museum, however, has decided to renew its sponsorship deal with BP for a further five years, leading to recent media coverage that the Board was not consulted over such a controversial move.

The Museum continues to be targeted by campaigners, who are outraged by BP’s on-going sponsorship, and its current ‘Sunken Cities’ exhibition. Just days ago, they smuggled a 40-foot “BP sea monster” in the Museum, along with 200 singing mermaids and “oily pirates” in what they see as their most ambitious performance yet.

But it is not just in the UK that protests are happening. The campaign against oil sponsorship started to go international when the Louvre was targeted at the climate talks last December in Paris. Activists called on the Louvre to cancel sponsorship contracts with oil giants, Total and Eni.

And now it is coming to the US.

Later this month, Liberate Tate will be sharing their experience of successfully removing BP from the Tate with artists, activists, cultural allies, friends and publics in New York, Washington DC, New Orleans and Houston.

Through these events, Liberate Tate campaigners will explore how they managed successfully to transform perceptions of fossil fuel companies sponsoring the arts.

Mel Evans of Liberate Tate said: “Liberate Tate is touring four cities in the US that together tie-up oil, power and art: Houston, New Orleans, DC and New York. With artists and activists in these cities we will share strategies and creative processes to bring about the changes the world desperately needs if we are to tackle climate change: the shared cultural spaces in which we can imagine a culture beyond oil.”

Kevin Smith, another campaigner from Liberate Tate, added: “A huge impetus for Liberate Tate’s early performances was BP’s Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf Of Mexico. Tate was hosting an elite party to celebrat 20 years of BP sponsorship at a time when thousands of gallons of crude were still gushing into the gulf, and we created our own spill in the middle of that party to manifest that reality.”

Smith said: “It feels right that six years after we started as a collective, we’re journeying in the USA to deepen conversation with artists, activists and frontline folks about the devastating impacts of fossil fuel companies and the role that culture plays in creating the ‘social licence to operate’ that enable these companies to trash communities, ecosystems and the climate.”

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