Creative solidarity: Building an alliance of workers and climate activists

BP or not BP?

Thursday 2nd November 2023 at 6.00-8.00pm UK time) via Zoom

In June 2023, it was confirmed that oil giant BP’s 27-year sponsorship of the British Museum had ended, following a decade-long campaign spearheaded by the “actor-vist” theatre group BP or not BP? Over the years, the group employed a wide range of creative protest tactics as a way of holding oil-sponsored cultural organisations to account but these tactics also provided a means for building new alliances and opening up conversations about the ways in which different struggles are connected.

In this workshop, participants will first hear about the ways creative tactics have been used both by activists and cultural workers to connect the campaign against fossil fuel sponsorship with workers struggles. It will offer a behind-the-scenes look at why these ambitious and imaginative interventions were impactful and how relationships between different groups developed around them.

In the second part of the workshop, we will move into a discussion about what can be learned from the campaign against fossil fuel sponsorship in museums and about how we can more effectively build alliances between the climate and workers movements. It will be an opportunity to reflect upon the challenges of working in solidarity and how we might build bridges between these movements as the climate crisis intensifies and workers’ rights are eroded.

About ‘BP or not BP?’

Founded in 2012, BP or not BP? is an “actor-vist” theatre group which campaigns to rid art and culture from the scourge of fossil fuel sponsorship! The collective first formed in response to BP’s sponsorship of plays taking place at the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the ‘World Shakespeare Festival’. The group undertook a year-long series of “stage invasions” where they would take to the stage before sponsored performances were about to begin and use the Bard’s own words to expose the truth behind BP’s cynical sponsorship of the arts. 

The group then turned its attention to BP’s sponsorship of exhibitions at the British Museum, undertaking a decade-long campaign involving elaborate theatrical performances, large-scale flashmobs and audacious puppets and props, such as a giant kraken and even a Trojan Horse! Over time, a core part of the group’s approach was to seek out opportunities to support and work in solidarity with other struggles, such as those directly impacted by BP’s operations in places such as the Gulf Coast and West Papua, communities seeking the return of stolen objects from the museum’s collection, and also workers within cultural institutions opposing privatisation and taking strike action when their rights were under threat.

Alongside their allies in the Art Not Oil coalition, the group has had a BIG impact – since 2016, 15 leading UK cultural institutions have cut their ties to fossil fuel sponsorship. Also, all four cultural institutions that signed up to a ‘block’ 5-year sponsored deal with BP back in 2016 – the RSC, Royal Opera House, National Portrait Gallery and British Museum – have all ended or not renewed their sponsorships.

About the facilitators

The workshop will be led by Chris Garrard and Clara Paillard from BP or not BP? but with contributions from other activists and workers involved in the campaign. Chris is Co-director of the campaigns and research organisation Culture Unstained and an art activist, and Clara is a Trade Union organiser with the Climate Justice organisation Tipping Point UK and was a museum Trade Union rep for over 15 years who has been involved in many worker struggles.