BP’s sponsorship of the Royal Opera House ends after 33 years

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Campaigners hailed a “seismic shift” in arts funding after the Royal Opera House confirmed it had cut its sponsorship relationship with BP after more than three decades.

The international oil and gas company has been a sponsor of ROH since 1988, most recently under a five-year deal that began in 2018. However, in a statement on Wednesday, the opera said there was an “agreement” that the funding would not be renewed.

“We are grateful to BP for their 33-year sponsorship, which has enabled thousands across the country to watch opera and ballet for free on our BP large screens,” said a spokesperson.

They said the two sides “agreed that the partnership will not be renewed beyond December 22, when the BP deal will end”.

ROH’s decision will put further pressure on the British Museum, which is now one of the last major arts institutions still receiving funding from the energy company. The museum’s current Hieroglyphs exhibition, which is the last under a five-year funding deal with BP, ends on February 19, and it has so far declined to say whether it plans to renew.

The Science Museum also stubbornly sticks to its fossil fuel sponsors Shell and Adani, despite prolonged protests. Today, both museums are increasingly isolated.

The Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Portrait Gallery have severed their ties with BP in recent years after decades of sponsorship, joining the BFI, National Theatre, National Gallery and Tate Galleries, among others, in rejecting oil company sponsorship. Explaining the RSC decision in 2019, the company’s directors said: “In the midst of the climate crisis we are seeing, young people are now telling us clearly that BP’s sponsorship creates a barrier between them and their willingness to get involved with the RSC. We cannot ignore this message.”

Chris Garrard, Composer and Director of Campaign Group Culture Unstained, said: “What we are witnessing is a seismic shift, an almost total rejection of the art of the BP brand and the damaging business climate it represents. By lowering the curtain on fossil fuel funding, the Royal Opera House can now play a leading role in creating the culture beyond oil that we so urgently need.”

The move was also welcomed by Mark Padmore, a tenor who performed in ROH. He said: “We in the cultural sector need to ask tough questions and encourage better practice. We must prioritize sustainability, fairness, inclusion and generosity in all our activities. I welcome the decision to end oil companies’ sponsorship of the Royal Opera House.”

The loss of BP’s funding to ROH is due to a 9% cut in the core grant from Arts Council England, which the institution says will create “significant financial challenges in the future, along with our industry colleagues”. However, Culture Unstained stated that based on its financial statements, BP’s sponsorships accounted for less than 0.5% of ROH’s annual income, “and despite ROH being BP’s “longest-running arts partner”, its sponsorship payments would not cover the director’s total salaries chief and musical ROH”.

BP said: “We are proud to have supported the Royal Opera House for more than three decades. During this time, BP Big Screens has provided free world-class opera and ballet performances to thousands of people across the UK and we have recently supported some of ROH’s sustainability initiatives. As our partnership agreement expired at the end of last year, we wish the Royal Opera every success for the future.”

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