Shell has ended its decade-long sponsorship of the National Gallery, to the delight of campaigners who have fought to keep fossil fuel financing out of the arts.
The partnership with the Anglo-Dutch firm made the London art gallery the target of protests over the years, including Greenpeace dropping a banner off the building’s roof and activists gatecrashing the launch of a flagship Rembrandt exhibition.
However, the deal quietly expired in January this year after the company undertook a review of its corporate partnerships, documents released under freedom of information rules reveal.
They said the decision was to allow the company to “focus on our work to inspire the next generation of engineers through our Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) education programmes”.
Unions representing workers at the museum welcomed the end of the relationship with Shell.
Clara Paillard, the president of the Culture Group at the PCS Union, said: “As the recent IPCC report has confirmed the urgency of tackling climate change within the next 12 years, fossil fuel companies have got no place in our public museums and should become persona non grata like tobacco companies.”
However, activists said the oil and gas giant was simply shifting its funding to science institutions and events such as the company’s annual Make the Future event, which is attended by schoolchildren.
Chris Garrard, a co-director of Culture Unstained, said: “By ending its partnership with the National Gallery and shifting into science education, Shell is admitting that it was never a genuine philanthropist but a toxic company with an image to clean up.”
Next in campaigners’ sights is Shell’s sponsorship of an exhibition that opened on Thursday at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester.
The oil company’s sponsorship of the Electricity: The spark of life exhibition has already led several partners in the Manchester Science Festival to withdraw in protest at Shell’s involvement.
The museum has defended the partnership, saying it is able to operate because of “a range of individual philanthropists, corporate partners and charitable trusts” in a time when “government funding is declining in real terms”.
Shell said its sponsorship of the exhibition was “part of the longstanding relationship between Shell and the science museum, based on shared interests such as the need to inspire young people about science”.
A spokesperson added: “The institutions we work with changes over time and while we are not currently working with the National Gallery, we are always open to doing so again in the future.”