NMS defends venue hire policy after 13 arrested at oil dinner

Calls grow for museums to reconsider relationship with fossil fuel industry
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
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National Museums Scotland (NMS) has defended its decision to host a dinner for the Scottish Oil Club, during which 13 environmental protestors were arrested.

The incident, which took place on 8 March, saw 20 protestors from the climate action group Extinction Rebellion Scotland occupy the National Museum of Scotland’s hall in an attempt to force the event’s cancellation. Several chained themselves to railings inside and a banner was dropped from the museum’s balcony.

The police were called when the protestors refused to leave after the museum closed at 5pm, leading to 13 arrests. The protests continued outside the museum, where hundreds of people attended a planned demonstration against the fossil fuel industry. The dinner, which was reportedly attended by 890 oil industry executives, went ahead after a short delay.

In a statement, NMS said that commercial venue hire did not imply “an endorsement of the client’s product, service or views”.

The statement said: “Although we receive significant funding from Scottish Government, in order to deliver our aims we are dependent on income from donations and grants, our shops, cafes and commercial venue hire. We hire our premises for a wide variety of such events and this does not imply an endorsement of the client’s product, service or views.”
 
“On Friday 8 March, demonstrators were protesting against a private commercial event which was being held in the museum. When the museum closed at 5pm, some protestors who had been inside the building refused to leave and following a period of negotiation 13 people were subsequently arrested.”

The incident comes amid growing calls for museums to break ties with the fossil fuel  industry, as well as an accelerating campaign of climate action among the public, including a strike staged last week by schoolchildren worldwide.  

Peter Stott, a Fellow of the Museums Association who has worked across the Scottish museum sector, called on NMS to “be more explicit about its decision” to accommodate the dinner.

He told Museums Journal: “There is nothing in NMS’s statement about the events of 8 March which indicates that, by deciding to accommodate the Scottish Oil Club, it realised it was facing a quandary. Now that Extinction Rebellion has done that for it, NMS needs to be more explicit about its decision, if only for the benefit of its professional colleagues, for whom it is a leading organisation and among whom there is great interest in museums and sustainability.

“In its ambition to be a museum of the world, is there room to be a museum of the planet? NMS visitors need one of those too.”


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