BP boss says protests against its arts funding 'just feel odd'

BP’s chief executive, Bob Dudley, has branded the UK backlash against the oil company’s arts sponsorship the “oddest approach” in the climate debate.

The oil boss spoke out against the mounting opposition to its arts funding after high-profile protests targeted its support for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the British Museum and the National Portrait Awards.

He told a Chatham House event that the recent spate of protests is “very curious” and “just feels odd” when there is “overwhelming feedback” in support of its arts funding. “The rest of the world finds this the oddest approach,” he added.

In response Culture Unstrained, a campaign group hoping to end oil sponsorship in the arts, said Dudley’s comments “seem out of touch with reality” given the high-profile and widespread opposition to BP’s sponsorship across the cultural sector in recent weeks.

Actor Sir Mark Rylance resigned from the Royal Shakespeare Company last month, saying that BP’s sponsorship deal allowed the company to “obscure the destructive reality of its activities” on the environment.

A judge and several leading artists also wrote to the director of the National Portrait Gallery on the eve of its annual awards last month calling for an end to its long-standing links to the company.

In February, hundreds of people occupied the British Museum to object to its relationship with BP.

The museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer, has since rejected calls to drop its sponsorship deal with BP, and publicly endorsed the funding.

Dudley acknowledged that climate demonstrators’ anger over progress by the energy industry towards a lower carbon future is escalating. “Tensions are running high and we recognise there are real concerns being expressed – about BP, and about the energy sector more broadly,” he said.

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BP’s London headquarters were brought to a standstill after Greenpeace blockaded the company’s entrance in early May, before climate protesters struck again at the company’s annual general meeting later in the same month. In June Greenpeace activists scaled an oil rig as it was being towed to one of BP’s North Sea projects.

“All this might suggest that the demonstrators’ view of the future is worlds apart from BP’s. The frustration from my side is that we agree on much more than people realise. Like our critics, BP believes the world is not on a sustainable path,” he said.

“In order to progress we have to talk constructively. Not broadcast our opinions at each other but really talk. That means taking the time to listen, understand each other’s perspective and then work together to find the solutions. And fast,” he said.



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