Commentary: Censorship concerns for arts sponsored by energy industry

Kevin Smith,, 11/16/12

It's hardly breaking news that big fossil fuel companies often exert a great deal of influence over political processes through campaign contributions and lobbying. But how do the oil, gas and mining industries exert influence over the cultural sector? A recent American example is instructive. [The sculpture installation] "Carbon Sink: What Goes Around Comes Around" had barely been installed at the University of Wyoming before it was removed without warning in May 2012. The installation consisted of a "flat whirlpool of beetle-killed logs spiraling into a vortex of charred, black wood and studded with large lumps of Wyoming coal", representing natural and human-induced global warming. Marion Loomis of the Wyoming Mining Association, told a local newspaper: "They get millions of dollars in royalties from oil, gas and coal to run the university, and then they put up a monument attacking me, demonising the industry. I understand academic freedom, and we're very supportive of it, but it's still disappointing." After initially claiming the sculpture was removed because of  water damage, a local radio investigation obtained emails that revealed the university actually decided to remove Carbon Sink "because of the controversy it generated". This episode is extreme, but it's not entirely isolated. In the UK, some of the most high profile arts sponsorship deals have been with the oil industry. In 2011, at an oil-related event at the London Literature Festival, a duty manager insisted on vetting materials in case they were critical of Shell, while in 2010, Tate [Museum] staff sought to ensure a workshop on disobedience didn't go anywhere near the issue of the gallery's sponsors.


Commentary: Should audiences boycott arts orgs sponsored by oil companies?

Mark Shenton, The Stage theatre blog, 11/26/12

When I said on Twitter,

"I'm going to take direct action against BP & stop refuelling there..."

@publicreviews [replied]:

"Would you also then stop going to theatres who use BP sponsorship to help finance their programming?"

But it's very different -- I still have a choice where to buy coffee or a book or CD, but not where I see the [Royal Shakespeare Company] (who get BP sponsorship). I received a very interesting magazine from Platform London, that calls into question the whole ethics of business sponsorship of the arts -- and how much the benefactors gain in terms of access from their philanthropy. One article cites the [Tate Museum's director] Nicholas Serota, stating: "There's no money that is completely pure." As [the art-activist collective] Liberate Tate [replies] in the magazine,

"No money is completely pure, but some funding is dirtier than others.... It can be argued that because tax is collected from all businesses across all ethical practices, taxation itself is not a clean form of money and the arts already benefit from those taxes. Once taken from the taxpayer, however they may have earned it, this money belongs to society... Taking money directly from a specific corporation associates those in receipt of the funds with the activities through which that company makes profit. Accepting sponsorship from a corporation that is causing irreversible environmental damage on a global scale is a choice. And it contaminates us all -- explicitly and subliminally."


Commentary: Oil sponsorship of the arts: Getting rid of some myths

Composer and activist Chris Garrard on his personal blog, 10/24/12

From the powerful interventions of Liberate Tate to the impromptu performances by The Reclaim Shakespeare Company, the media are gradually being prompted to raise the issue of oil sponsorship of the arts. As a consequence, the arts institutions in question are now under much greater scrutiny regarding their consistency of ethics and values. The logic behind opposing oil sponsorship of the arts is quite straightforward. However, as has been the case with climate change denial, the arguments by those defending the status quo are used to "flatten" the debate. The effect is to direct discussion around the issue into dead-ends that prevent a deeper understanding of how we value the arts and the environment. Frustratingly, this is the quality of debate that meets the needs of a media interested in sound bites and the entertainment value of strong dividing lines. But it's time to open up the debate and try to put maybe a few of the weak arguments to bed:

> "We are all entitled to our opinion..."

> "These oil companies are just large businesses who want to engage in philanthropy and support the arts sector."

> "But the arts sector needs the money..."

> "But historically, the arts have always taken money from big business or sponsors... Why should things be any different now?"

> "If we engage more people in the arts to learn about life and philosophy, then that has to counteract issues with where the funding came from..."

> "Money is money. It doesn't matter where it comes from."

Click here to read the rest of his post.


Commentary: "To a certain extent, we are all subsidized by oil money"

Clemens Bomsdorf, The Art Newspaper, 11/22/12

Leading figures in the Oslo art world are at loggerheads after the decision by the private Astrup Fearnley Museum to accept sponsorship from Norwegian arm of the Swedish-based oil firm Lundin Petroleum. "Lundin is known as one of the worst in the oil business and is under investigation for breaching humanitarian rights in Sudan", says Jonas Ekeberg, editor in chief of the largely state-funded art magazine Kunstkritikk. Ekeberg had also called on delegates to the Norwegian Cultural Council's annual conference to boycott a closing reception at the museum on 14 November, however few boycotted. Ekeberg also stands accused of double standards. Maria Veie, owner of Galleri Maria Veie in Oslo and Trondelag says that as Kunstkritikk is almost entirely financed by the state and the Norwegian government's pension fund holds a 1.6% stake in Lundin Petroleum, Ekeberg should, in principle, reject his magazine's subsidy: "One should be aware that, to a certain extent, we are all cultural producers subsidised by oil money in a time of global economic turmoil." Although privately owned, her gallery is also in receipt of state funds. Similar protests were made earlier this year when the Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm accepted sponsorship from Lundin Petroleum.


Chesapeake Energy Corporation receives national award for its arts support

Press release on the website of Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, 11/7/12

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and Allied Arts congratulate Chesapeake Energy Corporation on being named one of the ten best companies in the nation for private-sector support of the arts.  They were selected by the Business Committee of the Arts.  As a division of Americans for the Arts, the BCA recognizes exceptional commitment to the arts through grants, partnerships, volunteer programs, gifts, sponsorships and board membership.  Allied Arts, Oklahoma's only United Arts Fund, nominated Chesapeake for the prestigious award, citing the company's support of a variety of art genres both in Oklahoma City and in Chesapeake's operating areas across the country.  Said Deborah McAuliffe Senner, president/CEO of Allied Arts: "Chesapeake's generosity has advanced many arts initiatives... [that] have literally benefited thousands of people of all ages and enhanced the quality of life in our community."   The BCA 10: Best Companies Supporting the Arts in America Award recognizes 10 businesses each year for setting the standard of excellence, serving as role models for others to follow in their exceptional involvement with the arts.  At the awards presentation, the BCA noted Chesapeake's sponsorships of arts programs, guidance to arts organizations, employee volunteerism and creation of community arts events as examples of the company's strong arts support. 

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