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BP Pledges Another $15.5 Million to Tate, Royal Opera House

Liberate Tate
A protester belonging to the Liberate Tate group lies covered in an oil-like substance at Tate Britain in London in April, 2011. The protest marked the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, with those taking part urging the Tate to take no more money from BP Plc. Photographer: Amy Scaife/Liberate Tate via Bloomberg

BP Plc, which last year caused the U.S.’s worst-ever oil spill, today pledged another 10 million pounds ($15.5 million) to four cultural institutions for the next five years.

The energy company is backing programming at the Royal Opera House, Tate Britain, the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, the four said in an e-mailed release and a joint presentation at the British Museum today.

“Everywhere we operate, we should seek to contribute to the wider community, and not only through our business activities,” Iain Conn, head of BP Plc’s refining and marketing unit, said in the release. “It is important to us that we make a meaningful contribution to society here in the U.K.”

Ed Vaizey, the culture minister whose department announced arts funding cuts earlier this year, welcomed the move. “For more than 20 years, BP has led the way in business support for the arts,” Vaizey said. “I am delighted that this will continue over the next five years.”

BP’s U.K. arts sponsorships have been the target of spectacular protests ever since the April 2010 explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico triggered an environmental disaster that took months to clear up.

Oil Protest

In April this year, for the spill’s first anniversary, a naked youth curled up on the floor of Tate Britain and had black oil poured over him from green petrol cans bearing the BP logo.

In June 2010, activists spilled an oil-like liquid inside and outside Tate Britain as guests arrived for the annual summer party. The entrance was splattered with cans of treacle bearing the BP logo. Another group smuggled cans inside, under their skirts, and emptied them in the columned main hall.

The BP money announced today will go toward funding exhibitions at the British Museum, live big-screen opera relays at the Royal Opera House, a rehang of the permanent collection at Tate Britain, and the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery.

In recent years, BP has refrained from stating the value on its funding of U.K. arts. In an earlier 2005 interview, Des Violaris, BP’s U.K. director for arts and culture, said that spending on arts was more than 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) a year.

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 development office at the time.

Great Court

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 past decade including “Hadrian: Empire and Conflict” (2008); “Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings” (2010); and “Journey through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead” (which ended earlier this year.)

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, open to anyone over 18. The sponsorship is now in its second decade 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 website.

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