British art in Big Business stranglehold

This video from Britain says about itself:

BP or not BP? The debut performance of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company

Vote BP for worst Olympic sponsor!:

On April 23rd 2012 – Shakespeare’s birthday and the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival – a group of merry players known as the “Reclaim Shakespeare Company” took unexpectedly to the stage in Stratford-upon-Avon, just before a Royal Shakespeare Company performance of The Tempest. This piece of guerilla Shakespeare aimed to challenge the RSC over its decision to accept sponsorship from BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster and the oil company’s decision to start extracting highly polluting and destructive tar sands in Canada. Find out more here.

Filmed by Zoe Broughton

Here’s the script in full:

What country, friends, is this?

Where the words of our most prized poet

Can be bought to beautify a patron

So unnatural as British Petroleum?

Strange association!

They, who have incensed the seas and shores

From a dark deepwater horizon

Who have unleashed most foul destruction

Upon far Canada’s aged forests,

Clawing out the lungs of our sickening earth

Who even now would bespoil the high, white Arctic

In desperate search of more black gold

To make them ever richer. These savage villains!

And yet —

They wear a painted face of bright green leaves,

Mask themselves with sunshine.

And with fine deceitful words

They steal into our theatres, and our minds.

They would have us sleep.

But this great globe of ours is such stuff as dreams are made on.

Most delicate, wondrous, to be nurtured

For our children and theirs beyond.

Let not BP turn these dreams to nightmares.

Fuelling the Future? Thou liest malignant thing! Do we sleep?

I find not myself disposed to sleep.

Let us break their staff that would bewitch us!

Out damned logo!

From the BP or not BP site in Britain:

At a time when the world should fear much more the heat of the sun and the furious winter’s rages, BP is conspiring to distract us from the naked truth of climate change, and by pursuing a future powered by more and more extreme fossil fuels, like tar sands, deepwater drilling and Arctic exploitation, with its daring folly burn the world.

Something is rotten in the state of Stratford

The Royal Shakespeare Company have chosen to put BP’s money in their purse. Yet he’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf. BP is doing everything in its power to let not the public see its deep and dark desires – fossil fuel expansion and ecological devastation. BP is the harlot’s cheek, beautied with sponsoring art. It is the greenwash monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on, and the RSC have made themselves complicit in its crimes. If this were play’d upon a stage now, we could condemn it as an improbable fiction!

Enough! No more!

Times are tough. Ay, there’s the rub. But all that glisters is not gold. And whilst comparisons are odorous, we do well remember the dropping of tobacco companies as sponsors by a host of cultural institutions. The arts continued, and so shall the RSC, freed from the grasp of this smiling damned villain. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

We believe that action is eloquence

We say to the RSC: to thine own self be true. Be nothing if not critical and forgo your damaging relationship with BP.

By Angel Dahouk in Britain:

Corporate shacklers

Wednesday 01 August 2012

At the State of the Arts conference earlier this year artists from theatre to architecture sought to explain the importance of art for themselves and society as a whole.

Author Jeanette Winterson told the Arts Council sponsored forum that art has a “moral” purpose. “I’m not one of these people who thinks it’s just idleness and entertainment. It’s there to change things, to make things better,” she said.

Eloquent words, but her resolute commitment has been met only with the reality of significant cuts to the cultural sector, a legacy of Tony Blair‘s Third Way project which encourages a “hand-up rather than a handout” to the arts.

That continues the political shift from state to market which defined Thatcherite Britain, with new Labour adopting the policy language of “investment” not public spending and “indicators” rather than intrinsic value.

The consequence is that last year, under the new coalition government, 206 arts organisations were informed they would no longer receive regular Arts Council funding. Around the same time “philanthrocapitalism” quickly became the Con-Dem buzz word when speaking about the arts.

Following the cuts, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt deemed 2011 “a year of corporate philanthropy,” setting the agenda for increased philanthropic giving to the arts while simultaneously arguing that public subsidy will not be replaced. “Financial independence is the oxygen for great art,” Hunt said.

But for those 206 arts organisations great art became secondary to the search for support and survival.

The Poetry Book Society, stunned by a 100 per cent cut, turned to investment firm Aurum Funds to carry forward the annual presentation of the TS Eliot Award.

But following the announcement of that sponsorship in December last year, two poets withdrew their collections from the shortlist, not wanting to align themselves with profit over morals. “My instinct, at a time when people are crying out for change,” poet Alice Oswald wrote, “is to position myself with them rather than with Aurum.”

The £350,000 slashed from London’s Tricycle Theatre resulted in the loss of the theatre’s artistic director Nicolas Kent after 28 years in which the Kilburn-based arts complex was at the forefront of politically and socially engaged theatre.

Kent expressed anger at cuts made to local arts organisations. Larger establishments “have enormous clout with both commercial sponsors and philanthropic givers who want to be associated with big national institutions,” he charged.

While the effects of cuts on artists and organisations are clear, the deepest consequences are felt by the public themselves. The arts in Britain have, for the most part, always depended on patronage in one form or another through individual donors, private institutions or state funding.

The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, the earliest incarnation of the Arts Council which existed throughout the second world war, was funded by the Ministry of Education to provide cultural access for all in times of war and austerity.

From 1946, the Arts Council of Great Britain reported directly to the Treasury and subsequently chose to favour “high arts,” with the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells accounting for more than half its grant expenditure in 1960.

Under the Conservative government from 1979 to 1997, the arts suffered a loss of government subsidy, forcing organisations to seek private sponsorship or to aim for greater box-office success.

The cuts were positively framed as combating complacency, diversifying income streams and maintaining autonomy.

But the reality is that excellence and freedom of expression is compromised by a need to pander to markets and mass appeal.

As the Bristol Old Vic theatre’s artistic director Tom Morris recently commented: “I work in a subsidised theatre because subsidy enables me to escape the strictures of the marketplace.”

Ways in which state funding is so essential include investment in experimental work, preserving cultural memory and national heritage and, most vital of all, arts subsidy “so that those members of our society whom the marketplace has failed can have access to them.”

His words are echoed by Max Stafford Clark of the critically acclaimed touring theatre company Out Of Joint who had their grant slashed by nearly a third. “We are commended for excellence, yet condemned to mediocrity by removing the structure that makes excellence possible,” he said.

All this is in sharp contrast to the announcement of the 18 recipients of the Arts Council Catalyst Fund endowments.

The fund is Jeremy Hunt’s “hand-up” to the arts, a new £100 million private-giving investment programme aimed at helping cultural organisations attract – although the word used is “access” – more private funding.

In an Arts Quarterly survey on private giving to the arts over 80 per cent of theatre respondents questioned whether the Catalyst Fund would encourage philanthropic giving.

That’s borne out by the list of successful endowment applicants who received £55 million between them – Royal Shakespeare Company, English National Opera and London Symphony Orchestra. You would be forgiven for assuming that these were funds restricted to such organisations, who already have the “brand” and capacity to attract funding.

These are safe bets – they are well-established, unlikely to fund art that offends or threatens their major donors and will continue to turn out blockbuster events.

Nationally, the picture is equally bleak, with 81 per cent of all individual giving concentrated in London, leaving little hope for regional organisations.

More telling is that during the designated “year of corporate philanthropy” business investment in the arts dipped for the fourth year in a row and now stands at £134.2m. “It is significant how many more “development staff” arts organisations now have,” Out of Joint’s education manager Panda Cox observes. “Work is not just being sold to an audience but to sponsors.”

What is the future for arts organisations who want to “change things, to make things better”?

For those not offered endowments, long-term funding remains ambiguous at best. Studies show that there is virtually no evidence of pure altruism in corporate philanthropy. Businesses adopt the arts as an instrument of marketing and/or legitimation. When the arts no longer serve a purpose that suits, they will be dropped.

Without public funding for arts practitioners, only an elite with private funds will be able to participate.

And the shift from government to “governance,” with the state taking a back seat, sacrifices a deeper social engagement with arts producers and audiences. As playwright David told the launch of the Lost Arts campaign last year, companies benefiting from endowments “could ignore national policy on outreach, education and diversity.”

The campaign is a consortium of eight unions whose members are directly affected by cuts to the arts – Bectu, Equity, the Musicians Union, the NUJ, Prospect, PCS, the Writers Guild of Great Britain and Unite.

One of the aims of Lost Arts is to catalogue the cuts to come and their impact in the lead-up to the 2015 spending review.

But it seems at present some arts organisations are too preoccupied with finding pennies to replace the pounds to do very much more. Out Of Joint are not in a position to refuse whatever funding comes their way. “A determination to survive means that the early question that organisations face is how do we get it, not should we,” Out of Joint’s Panda Cox says.

That’s an understandably realistic approach but restoring outreach, education, diversity and access to the arts will require more than pragmatism.

The Top Five Most Hypocritical Corporate Sponsors. Alyssa Figueroa, AlterNet in the USA: “Many non-profits and other charities rely on corporate sponsorships to keep them afloat – and some of those partnerships seem as counterproductive as KFC’s and Komen’s ‘pink bucket’ campaign”: here.

The quote that opens this remembrance of Mr. [Robert] Hughes came from his 2008 documentary film for Britain’s Channel 4 television, The Mona Lisa Curse. The film explored, in the words of Hughes, how “the entanglement of big money with art has become a curse on how art is made, controlled, and above all – in the way that it’s experienced”: here.

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  12. BP ‘Oil Vikings’ invade British museum

    The crowds at the British Museum were in for a surprise last month, as pillaging Vikings took over—adorned with BP logos.

    BP sponsors the museum’s popular Vikings exhibition. It’s one of a number of BP sponsorship deals targeted for theatrical protests by the Reclaim Shakespeare Company.

    They accuse the oil giant of using arts sponsorship to counteract anger at its main activities—profiting from environmental destruction.

    Watch the performance and sign petition at


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