- By Jess Worth, BP or Not BP
I never thought I was the kind of person who invaded stages. Raised by a Shakespeare buff, bookish in the extreme, my younger self would be amazed at the things I’ve got up to lately. But it wasn’t really my decision. Blame BP.
The oily behemoth has manoeuvred its tentacles into a tight, controlling grip around many of the UK’s most treasured cultural institutions. The British Museum, the Tate galleries, the Royal Opera House, and London’s National Portrait Gallery – all are heavily sponsored by BP.
The thing that got me, though, was BP’s sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company. How dare Big Oil stick its planet-trashing brand all over the Bard’s magnificent plays? That’s when the stage invading started…
You may feel the same about the Edinburgh International Festival (NB: not the Fringe). One of the jewels in Scotland’s cultural crown, and it’s sponsored by BP. If that bothers you, don’t worry. There’s something you can do about it, if you’re in Edinburgh this coming Sunday.
Since BP first sponsored the Bard in 2012, the theatrical protest group we formed (called, inevitably, ‘BP or not BP?’) has been performing anti-BP skits, onstage, without permission and often in iambic pentameter, to a backdrop of growing public support.
People aren’t stupid. They know that just because you put your logo on a piece of art, it doesn’t mean you’re not one of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change, actively lobbying against effective climate action, implicated in human rights abuses from Azerbaijan to Colombia, and officially the world’s biggest corporate criminal following the catastrophic spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP sponsors culture in order to maintain its ‘social license to operate’ but, increasingly, people aren’t standing for it.
When the RSC stopped putting BP’s logos on its plays (huzzah! Though the battle is not yet fully won…) we turned our attentions to other cultural organisations sponsored by the Beastly Polluter. We invaded the British Museum with a horde of BP Vikings. Thor got arrested (he really did) but we succeeded in bringing a longship into the Great Court and holding a Viking funeral for BP. We disrupted the press launch of the National Gallery’s Shell-sponsored Rembrandt exhibition with a sung version of Dr Faustus that also showed our support for gallery workers striking against privatisation. We created a human oil spill inside the British Museum with legendary New York performance activist Reverend Billy that has been watched over 80,000 times.
Because the tide is turning. The global fossil fuel divestment movement is spreading like wildfire. Fed up with lack of government action to tackle the root cause of climate change – burning fossil fuels – citizens have taken matters into their own hands, and are persuading organisations across the world to sever their ties with coal, oil and gas companies.
Down in England, our quest to end oil sponsorship of arts and culture is part of this thrilling movement. We have already seen the Southbank Centre drop Shell as the sponsor of its ‘Classic International’ concerts following protests. We have seen big names in the cultural world speak out against oil sponsorship. We have been on the front page of newspapers and on TV news. And we have seen a surge in ever-more audacious creative actions in oil-sponsored spaces, peaking in June when Liberate Tate occupied the Tate Modern Turbine Hall for 25 hours straight with their stunning ‘Time Piece’.
Now it’s Edinburgh’s turn. We are teaming up with Friends of the Earth Scotland and Edinburgh People & Planet for a protest performance in the heart of the festival, on Sunday morning. You don’t need to be a performer and you don’t need to have come to a rehearsal to join in. Just email us, join the Facebook event, meet us at 9am on Sunday 16th August here and join the actorvist revolution.
BP has a business plan for the end of the world, and if the Edinburgh International Festival doesn’t drop its oily sponsor soon it will look embarrassingly out of touch. It’s time to make that happen.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends. Out, damned logo!