Internal Dilemmas of Arts Sponsorship Ethics

Recently I have been thinking about how tricky it must be to work for an arts organisation you love but whose sponsorship ethics you disagree with on a moral or environmental level. I have written before about my stance on arts sponsorship – basically it’s never OK to have big oil backing the arts for all sorts of reasons but mainly the legitimacy it provides the oil companies to operate.

How would you tackle your organisation’s policy if you were the Tate and BP was a ‘major’ sponsor (it’s actually a really small amount of cash they hand out, all things considered)? Or what if you work at the British Museum and you really wanted to support the peaceful protests by BP or Not BP? Or at the Royal Opera House and you were inspired by the 75 composers and music academics who publicly condemned the association with BP? Then there was the embarrassing case of the Science Museum earlier this year, when we found out that Shell tried their best to influence the direction of their climate programme. Would your job be at risk if you objected? You could easily seem disloyal or even petty. Depending on the terms of your employment, you might even break contract and provide grounds for dismissal (although that would probably be unlikely.)

The problem would be made even worse, of course, if you worked in development and fundraising. For me, that would be make or break. If I was in the position where an organisation was telling me to deal with oil sponsors I would quit, on the spot (y’know, unless I was literally utterly completely broke.) I would like to know whether any research has been done into employee attitudes within these organisations named above. I remember at a conference BP or Not BP saying that employees had come to them privately to congratulate their protests.

It’s time the arts divest from dirty oil. The arts can be a voice for change in a world that seems blind to the changes afoot and the disasters fast approaching. Maybe internal pressure could be the driving force for change. There’s only so much external campaigns can do.