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After Years of Environmental Protests, Shell Ends National Gallery Sponsorship

The oil giant has ended its 12-year sponsorship deal with the London museum

Greenpeace protesters scale the National Gallery, London, 2012. Courtesy: Getty Images/AFP; photograph: Justin Tallis

Greenpeace protesters scale the National Gallery, London, 2012. Courtesy: Getty Images/AFP; photograph: Justin Tallis

Greenpeace protesters scale the National Gallery, London, 2012. Courtesy: Getty Images/AFP; photograph: Justin Tallis

Shell has concluded a sponsorship deal with London’s National Gallery, which has been in operation for 12 years. The deal expired in January, and was not renewed, following the gallery’s review of its corporate partnerships.

The National Gallery’s acceptance of oil sponsorship has been the subject of protests for years. High-profile actions by anti-fossil fuel activists have included Greenpeace planting a 40-metre banner on the art gallery’s roof in 2012, bearing the words ‘It’s No Oil Painting’, in a protest against the company’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.

Charlie Kronick, a senior climate advisor at Greenpeace UK, told frieze that what Shell had gained through its partnership deals with arts institutions was ‘social license’ and that it was ‘important to call this out’. In what he called ‘a bad deal for the environment’, Kronick said that ‘the question is how much longer they can buy this social approval’.

In a statement sent to frieze, the National Gallery said: ‘Like many museums the Gallery develops partnerships with businesses from a variety of sectors. Shell supported the National Gallery from 2006 until 2018, both as a Sponsor and a Corporate member. The gallery adheres to an ethical fundraising policy which can be viewed here.’

Shell confirmed to the gallery that its corporate membership would not be renewed – estimated at GBP£20,000–35,000 each year. According to The Guardian, the funding decision was taken by Shell to ‘focus on our work to inspire the next generation of engineers through our Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) education programmes.’ Kronick suggested to frieze that the oil company’s interest in shaping the educational agenda was problematic: ‘trying to influence the education of future engineers is really not appropriate.’

In August, two major Dutch museums announced they were pulling the plug on Shell sponsorship. The Mauritshuis in the Hague and Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum both said that they were ending funding from the oil and gas company. The Van Gogh Museum’s acceptance of Shell funding had also been the target of protests over the years, with activists recently dripping oil through its galleries.

Artist and campaigner with Liberate Tate, Mel Evans, discusses her work in pressuring London’s Tate to drop BP as a sponsor, writing for frieze about the responsibilities of artists in facing up to today’s environmental crisis: ‘not merely to make art about the political, or even within the social, but to make art that can radically alter the social and political possibilities presented to us.’

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