British Museum announces new £50m BP deal to fund masterplan - Museums Association

British Museum announces new £50m BP deal to fund masterplan

Climate campaigners plan to mount legal challenge to ‘indefensible’ 10-year partnership
A recent creative protest at the British Museum against BP sponsorship
A recent creative protest at the British Museum against BP sponsorship Photo by Ron Fassbender

The British Museum has announced a new £50m deal with the energy giant BP to help deliver its masterplan over the next 10 years.

The plan has caused outrage among climate campaigners, who have led a decade-long campaign calling for the institution to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.

The anti-oil sponsorship group Culture Unstained said campaigners intend to seek legal advice to mount a formal challenge to the partnership, as well as escalating protest action within the museum.

The institution announced the BP deal as it outlined the next steps of its 10-year masterplan, which will include a new government-funded Energy Centre, the redevelopment of a third of its galleries, and the official opening of its new Archaeological Research Collection (BM_ARC) at the Thames Valley Research Park in June 2024.  

In a statement, the museum said: “A new multi-year partnership with BP will support the future transformation of the museum by contributing £50m over 10 years. The partnership will also help deliver on plans to maintain public access for generations to come. The museum is very grateful for BP’s support at this early stage of the masterplan.”

The announcement follows speculation that the museum had ended its 27-year relationship with BP after a previous exhibition sponsorship deal between the two organisations formally expired in February.


The director of Culture Unstained, Chris Garrard, described the museum’s decision to continue with the partnership as “astonishingly out of touch and completely indefensible”.

“We believe this decision is illegitimate and in breach of the museum’s own climate commitments and sector-wide codes and will be seeking legal advice in order to mount a formal challenge to it,” Garrard said.

“The only way you can sign up to a new sponsorship deal with a planet-wrecking fossil fuel company in 2023 is by burying your head in the sand, pretending the climate crisis isn’t happening and ignoring the almost complete rejection of fossil fuel funding by the cultural sector in recent years.

"The board of trustees have not fulfilled their legal duty to protect the museum’s reputation as this new partnership will only damage it further."

The museum’s sponsorship arrangements have faced significant opposition within the museum and heritage sector. In 2019, former trustee Ahdaf Soueif resigned in protest at the museum’s stance, while in 2022, a letter to the museum from more than 300 heritage professionals said BP was “taking advantage of the British Museum’s status as a highly respected institution to associate its brand with values of high culture”.

Charlie Mayfield, chair of the British Museum’s Masterplan committee, said: “The British Museum is one of the largest and most visited cultural institutions in the world but some of its buildings are over 200 years old and in urgent need of refurbishment. That’s why the masterplan is so essential – and it’s exciting to be moving forward with our plans.


“Next year we will begin the process of completely overhauling our outdated energy infrastructure and replacing it with state of the art facilities that will dramatically reduce our carbon footprint.”


Cpncept art for a study room showing people examining artefacts by a large window
The museum masterplan will include public study rooms © John McAslan + Partners

The masterplan will see the launch of an international architectural competition to reimagine the museum’s galleries next spring. The competition will focus on the museum's "Western Range" – which currently houses collections such as Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome – and will involve the introduction of contemporary architecture and gallery displays, along with the restoration of the listed building.

The new archaeological research facility – the first phase of the masterplan – will house items ranging from nails from the Sutton Hoo ship burial to Peruvian fabrics and 5000-year-old antler picks. It will seek to offer a “radically different” approach to museum storage by facilitating research and study by both academics and members of the public.

Comments (1)

  1. Janice Cunningham says:

    Oh dear … BM gets into bed with an enemy which is described by Garrard as “planet wrecking” for filthy lucre. That stance you may well take if like Garrard and his ilk you believe in anthropogenic climate change i.e. that puny time limited humankind clinging to its surface and its similarly puny activities can somehow have any physical effect on this massive ball of earth, fire and water we inhabit which long before us has been spinning endlessly in the universe for millions nay trillions of years. BM needs the money and no doubt BP has agreed to become more ethical in its practices as part of the deal the negotiations for which took up the best part of a year

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