The National Gallery had a 12-year partnership with Shell

End of the road for partnership between Shell and National Gallery

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 30.10.2018
Oil giant says it ended deal to focus on Stem programmes
The global oil giant Shell has brought its 12-year partnership with the National Gallery to an end in a bid to refocus its sponsorship activities on science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) education programmes.

The corporation chose not to renew the partnership arrangement when it expired in January this year, according to emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the anti-oil activist group Culture Unstained. The National Gallery says it doesn’t have “any current plans to form a new partnership” with the oil giant.

The funding agreement, which was believed to be worth around £20,000 to £35,000 a year, had brought the gallery under increasing criticism from environmental groups in recent years.

Activists have claimed the cancellation of the deal as a major victory in their ongoing campaign against oil sponsorship of the arts. Numerous protest stunts have been staged at the National Gallery in recent years, including a banner drop during a Shell business reception in 2012, theatrical and musical interventions during the launch of the gallery’s Shell-sponsored Rembrandt exhibition in 2014, and a fake PR presentation on oil industry “greenwashing” given alongside Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting in 2015.

Chris Garrard, the co-director of Culture Unstained, said: “By ending its partnership with the National Gallery and shifting into science education, Shell is admitting that it was never a genuine philanthropist but a toxic company with an image to clean up.

“It is deeply concerning though that the National Gallery didn’t end this partnership years ago on ethical grounds, given that it was fully aware of Shell’s record on climate change, its ties to corruption and its human rights violations.”

A spokesman from the National Gallery said: “Like many museums, the gallery develops partnerships with businesses from a variety of sectors. Shell supported the National Gallery from 2006 until 2018, both as a sponsor and a corporate member. The gallery adheres to an ethical fundraising policy.”

The policy states: “The institution’s expertise limits its judgments to the potential harm caused to the gallery and its collection by unethical sources of funding rather than the potential harm done to society by alleged illegal or unethical activities of companies and individuals.”

Shell has also ended funding arrangements with a number of Dutch museums in recent months, citing an intention to move away from sponsorship of the arts and into Stem areas.

FOI emails revealed earlier this year that several participants in Manchester Science Festival had dropped out after learning that the corporation was sponsoring the main festival exhibition, Electricity: the Spark of Life, at the Science and Industry Museum.
A news analysis on ethical sponsorship in the museum sector will be published in the December issue of Museums Journal