The British Museum says no decisions have been taken about its relationship with the oil giant BP after reports that the 27-year partnership has come to an end.
The museum’s most recent five-year deal with the multinational expired in February following the closure of the BP-sponsored exhibition, Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt.
Last week the anti-oil group Culture Unstained, which has been campaigning for the museum to drop BP as a sponsor for more than a decade, said that evidence obtained though Freedom of Information requests confirmed that the museum has no other agreements or records of any discussions with BP about a future sponsorship or other partnership. The group hailed the news as a “massive victory” for the anti-fossil fuel movement.
However a museum spokeswoman told Museums Journal that reports confirming the end of the deal were inaccurate and “no decisions about the future of the partnership have been taken”.
According to the FOI releases obtained by Culture Unstained, the museum has a “verbal agreement” with BP that the energy company has until the end of 2023 to use up the supporter benefits that it was not able to utilise during the pandemic.
The institution did not confirm whether any further verbal agreements had been entered into with BP about the partnership.
In a statement, the British Museum said: “In times of reduced public funding, corporate sponsors like BP allow us to fulfil our mission to deliver unique learning experiences to our visitors.
“We have not ended our partnership with BP. BP is a valued long term supporter of the museum and our current partnership runs until this year.”
A spokeswoman for Culture Unstained said the museum “appears to be stage managing its exit”, saying its reluctance to confirm the end of the deal was a “missed opportunity for the museum to finally show climate leadership”.
News of the possible end of the relationship has been welcomed by museum and heritage professionals, who have expressed concern about the damaging impact of the museum’s ties to the fossil fuel company.
Rodney Harrison, professor of heritage studies at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, said: “Despite the museum’s lack of a clear statement, this important move does gesture positively towards chair George Osborne’s stated aspirations to become a ‘net zero’ museum, and the significant role for arts and cultural institutions in taking action for climate.”
Since 2016 a number of other culture and heritage institutions have cut ties to BP, including the National Portrait Gallery, the National Galleries of Scotland and Tate.