Campaigners have hailed a “seismic shift” in arts funding after the Royal Opera House confirmed it had severed its sponsorship relationship with BP after more than three decades.
The oil and gas multinational has been a sponsor of the ROH since 1988, most recently under a five-year deal that began in 2018. However, in a statement on Wednesday the opera house said there had been an “agreement” that the funding would not be renewed.
“We are grateful to BP for their sponsorship over 33 years which has enabled thousands around the country to see free opera and ballet through our BP Big Screens,” a spokesperson said.
They said the two parties had “agreed that the partnership would not extend beyond 22 December, when BP’s contract came to an end.”
The ROH decision will heap further pressure on the British Museum, which is now one of the last major arts institutions still receiving funding from the energy firm. The museum’s current exhibition Hieroglyphics, which is the last under its five-year funding deal with BP, finishes on 19 February, and it has so far refused to say whether it plans to renew.
The Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Portrait Gallery have cut their ties with BP in recent years, after decades of sponsorship, joining the BFI, National Theatre, National Gallery and Tate Galleries, among others, in rejecting oil company sponsorship. Explaining the RSC’s decision in 2019, the company’s directors said: “Amidst the climate emergency, which we recognise, young people are now saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the RSC. We cannot ignore that message.”
Chris Garrard, a composer and the director of the campaign group Culture Unstained, said: “What we are witnessing is a seismic shift, a near total wholesale rejection across the arts of BP’s brand and the climate-wrecking business it represents. By bringing down the curtain on fossil fuel funding, the Royal Opera House can now play a leading role in creating the culture beyond oil we so urgently need.”
The move was also welcomed by Mark Padmore, a tenor who has performed at the ROH. He said: “We in the cultural sector need to ask difficult questions and encourage better practices. We must put sustainability, fairness, inclusivity and generosity at the heart of all we do. I welcome the decision to end sponsorship of the Royal Opera House by fossil fuel companies.”
The loss of BP funding to the ROH follows a 9% cut in its core grant from Arts Council England, which the institution said would contribute to “significant financial challenges going forward, alongside our colleagues in the sector”. However, Culture Unstained said that based on its accounts, BP’s sponsorship represented less than 0.5% of the ROH’s annual income, “and despite the ROH being BP’s ‘longest-standing arts partner’, its sponsorship payment would not have covered the combined salaries of the ROH’s chief executive and musical director.”
BP said: “We’re proud to have supported the Royal Opera House for more than three decades. Over that time, BP Big Screens brought world-class opera and ballet performances free to thousands of people across the UK, and more recently we have supported some of the ROH’s sustainability initiatives. As our partnership agreement came to an end at the end of last year, we wish the Royal Opera House every success for the future.”