Three partners have dropped out of the upcoming Manchester Science Festival – organised by the city’s Science and Industry Museum – after learning that Shell was sponsoring the main festival exhibition, a freedom of information request has revealed.
According to emails obtained by the anti-oil campaign group Culture Unstained, three of the festival’s 160 partners withdrew after being informed about the oil giant’s sponsorship of the museum’s Electricity: the Spark of Life exhibition, which will be a centrepiece of the October festival.
An email from one of the partners, whose details are redacted, said the sponsorship deal “would make it impossible for us to be part of the festival”.
The email continued: “We are climate-focused and the petrol/oil industry is not addressing the issue in any meaningful way except to greenwash where they can.”
In addition, two other partners expressed disquiet at the deal, with one warning that it would not work with the festival in future “if something like this occurs again”.
One of the organisations to withdraw, Carbon Co-op, went public this week about its decision. The organisation’s engagement officer, Laura Williams, said in a statement: “Making the decision to campaign against an organisation that you have worked with is not easy.
"We, like many in Manchester, feel that the Science and Industry Museum offers a vital platform for showing the positive role that technology could play in transforming our world. The museum’s decision to take sponsorship from Shell is a betrayal of this, undermining its ability to inspire the next generation on what our future should look like. We know that we’re not alone in this view.”
A spokeswoman for another of the festival partners that dropped out, Stitched Up, said: “We feel it’s vitally important that our cultural and educational institutions remain independent from these voices.”
A petition featuring more than 57,000 signatures was presented to the museum this week demanding that it cancel the sponsorship deal.
However the museum’s director, Sally MacDonald, defended the Shell partnership in a blog on the museum’s website, writing: “At a time when government funding is declining in real terms, we are only in a position to be able to do this because of the strong support of a range of individual philanthropists, corporate partners and charitable trusts.
“I know that some people disagree with our position that we should be open to seeking sponsorship from a wide range of corporate partners working in the fields of science, technology and engineering. However, it is a stance that both I and the board of the Science Museum Group strongly support. These funding partners support our mission to inspire futures by igniting a curiosity in science.”
A spokeswoman for the museum confirmed that the partners had dropped out, saying: “We respect their decision and continue to have discussions with some of those partners about possible future collaborations.”
She added: “We apply the same thought and consideration to all prospective funders, whether corporate, charitable trusts or individual philanthropists, and any sponsor that wishes to work with us must accept that editorial control sits firmly with the museum.”
The news comes after two museums in the Netherlands, the Van Gogh Museum and Mauritshuis, confirmed last month that they had severed longstanding financial ties with Shell.
Although the institutions said the decision to not to renew partnerships with the oil giant was a mutual agreement, it followed a series of protest actions by Dutch anti-oil campaigners.