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BP Keeps Arts Sponsorship as Pressure Grows for Spill Damages

Paolo Uccello drawing, ``Study of a Chalice''
A drawing by Paolo Uccello, ``Study of a Chalice,'' (c. 1450-70) is on show in ``Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings,'' sponsored by BP, at the British Museum from April 22 through July 25. Source: Uffizi/ British Museum via Bloomberg.

June 18 (Bloomberg) -- BP Plc, which has shed 45 percent of its market value after causing the U.S.’s worst-ever oil spill, said it will keep sponsoring the British Museum, the Royal Opera House, Tate Britain and the National Portrait Gallery in London.

“These are longstanding partnerships that we have with major cultural institutions in the U.K.,” BP spokesman David Nicholas said in a telephone interview yesterday. “They’re completely unchanged, as far as I’m concerned.”

Nicholas spoke as the British Museum outlined its next BP-backed show: “Journey Through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead” (November 2010 - March 2011). At a media briefing, the museum put on display a statuette of the god Osiris and the papyrus it contained, both dated about 1150 B.C.

BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20. BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward, who was yesterday questioned by U.S. lawmakers, has agreed to President Barack Obama’s request to establish a fund to pay damages to victims. The company temporarily suspended dividends and pledged asset sales to help finance the $20 billion fund. Legislators stepped up demands for more action as the number of claims for compensation increased.

The British Museum’s deputy director Andrew Burnett said he wasn’t concerned about a BP pullout. “Our relationship with BP is on a long-term basis,” he said.

Spending Figure

Neither BP spokesman Nicholas nor any of the institutions would say how much BP gave. In a 2005 interview, Des Violaris, BP’s U.K. director for arts and culture, indicated that spending on arts was more than 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) a year.

“I think it’s money very well spent,” said Tony Shepard, an analyst at Charles Stanley in London, who issued a “hold” recommendation on BP on June 1.

Shepard said he never heard anyone complain about BP arts support, and while a seven-digit figure might seem a lot, “in the context of BP’s size, it’s a fairly small number.”

“They’ve got a long record of supporting the arts,” said Shepard. “If they suddenly stopped it, that might produce a bit of a backlash.”

Asked about the sponsorships yesterday, the four institutions responded with a joint e-mailed statement praising the energy company.

“BP has, for many years, made a significant contribution to the arts and cultural life of this country,” they said. “We are grateful to BP for their long-term commitment, sharing the vision that our artistic programs should be made available to the widest possible audience.”

Cost Benefit

The benefits of arts patronage far outweighed its costs, philanthropy professionals said.

“If they were spending billions on it, then people might say that it was a waste of shareholders’ money, which should be spent on cleaning up beaches,” said Colin Tweedy, chief executive of Arts & Business, a nonprofit organization that links arts bodies with corporate and private donors. “Saving that money will not do anything to the coastline of America.”

“It’s a relatively small amount, but the impact they can have with it is far greater,” said Tweedy.

BP’s sponsorship aim has been to make the arts accessible to as many people as possible. A parallel purpose, according to the company website, is to allow institutions to plan ahead and book artists, shows and artworks far in advance.

Live Screenings

Since 2001, BP has backed the Royal Opera House’s big-screen summer relays, which transmit live opera and ballet to thousands of outdoor viewers nationwide. When the agreement was first signed, BP paid a fee of 270,000 pounds a year for three years. By 2005, the cost was 350,000 pounds per year, according to the opera house’s head of development at the time.

At the British Museum, BP is the longest-standing corporate backer, committed since 1996 when it helped fund the museum’s Great Court redevelopment. Three years later, BP gave money and its name to a lecture theater.

BP has helped pay for exhibitions over the last decade including “Mummy: The Inside Story” (2003); “Hadrian: Empire and Conflict” (2008); and the current “Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings.”

At what is now Tate Britain, BP has, since 1990, helped fund the presentation of the permanent collection, which is regularly rehung to keep it fresh and appealing to the public.

At the National Portrait Gallery, BP’s main focus is the BP Portrait Award, now in its 21st year and open to anyone over 18. The show connected with the award draws some 300,000 people a year to the London venue, according to the BP Web Site.

That sponsorship has been renewed through 2012, according to gallery spokesman Neil Evans.

To contact the writer on this story: Farah Nayeri in London at Farahn@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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