This morning, Monday 11 November 2019, National Galleries Scotland announced their decision to cut ties with BP. Ahead of the ‘BP Portrait Award 2019’ exhibition opening at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on 7 December 2019, the trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland have released a statement which acknowledges their responsibilty ‘to address the climate emergency’. The statement also says that ‘for many people, the association of this competition with BP is seen as being at odds with that aim.’
The trustees said that they were ‘grateful’ to London’s National Portrait Gallery and BP for their support in fostering young talent and portrait artists from around the world, but that after consideration, ‘this will be the last time that the galleries will host this exhibition in its present form.’
Chris Garrard of the anti-oil pressure group Culture Unstained described the decision as ‘nothing short of seismic […] in a time of climate emergency, an ethical red line must be drawn and BP is on the wrong side of it. Now the National Portrait Gallery must follow this lead, cut its ties with BP and reinvent the Portrait Award as a positive celebration of portraiture, not a promotional tool for a climate criminal.’ The oil company has sponsored the National Portrait Gallery for the last three decades – earlier this year, a group of leading artists and a judge of the BP portrait prize, Gary Hume, called on the NPG to cut its sponsorship deal.
The move by National Galleries Scotland follows a series of high profile UK arts institutions ending their ties to fossil fuel companies, including in recent months, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. In October, the RSC announced that it was ending its partnership with BP, which had sponsored a reduced-rate ticket scheme for young people since 2013 – the decision followed several protests including the resignation of Sir Mark Rylance from his position as associate artist in the company and threats by school climate strikers to boycott RSC productions. In the same month, the National Theatre announced it would end funding from Shell, citing ecological concerns.