This month we published Mel Evans’ Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts, coinciding with the fifth anniversary of BP’s catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In this article, first published on commondreams.org, Mel explores the ongoing – and yet increasingly scrutinised – relationship between oil companies and many of our most loved and prestigious cultural institutions.
‘This week marks the 5th anniversary of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. The company continues to be hounded by the legal fallout, including criminal convictions, and it is desperate to do whatever it can to cleanse its public image. This is especially challenging in the face of intense criticism globally from the fossil fuel divestment groups like 350.org, the #keepitintheground campaign and the movement to end oil sponsorship of the arts.
One of BP’s PR techniques to weather the Deepwater Horizon backlash is ‘Artwash’ – the title of my book which has been published on the same day as the anniversary. By sponsoring the likes of Tate and British Museum, as well as the Olympics, BP hopes to achieve a guise of social acceptability, or what oil PR specialists would call ‘social licence to operate’. But over the same period since the disaster, a multitude of voices have risen up to criticise cultural institutions for associating themselves with BP.