On Fossil Fuels and Arts Sponsorships

Speaking of climate change, Toner Quinn recently wrote about how fossil fuel companies use arts organisation sponsorships they use to greenwash their reputations.

The fact that [Galway International Arts Festival] was at the same time presenting art works that highlight the peril of climate change only compounds the irony.

When I asked the festival about these issues, it said that ‘The festival is on a journey towards a more sustainable future and is making step changes to reduce its impact on the environment.’ It outlined many of the admirable steps it is taking: sourcing 50% of its total energy requirements from renewable resources and reducing current waste production by 55% by 2025; using reusable cups in bars; promoting behaviour among staff, volunteers, artists and audiences that will reduce their impact on the environment; and working with supply chains to help deliver more sustainable options. But all of this is dwarfed when they take on a fossil fuel company as a sponsor.

“Sure, we’re providing cheap advertising to fossil fuel companies, but have you seen our reusable cups?”

Fossil fuel sponsorship in the arts has long been contentious, but we’re past the point where it should even be on the table for debate. The harm that these companies do is immense, and no organisation—particularly any with impulses towards social justice—should be doing business with them. Recent years have seen major British arts bodies pull away from sponsorship deals, as reported by Francesca Willow on Ethical Unicorn in November:

Organisations such as the Tate, Edinburgh FringeThe Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Theatre and the Van Gogh Museum have all ended major fossil fuel sponsorships in recent years. Just last week, at COP26, BP or Not BP? joined forces with Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir to challenge BP’s partnership with the Scottish ballet (yes, the dancer pictured above is me). Less than two hours later, the Scottish Ballet announced they were reviewing all partnerships.

It’s clear that these companies are nearing their end, despite desperate attempts to greenwash and aggressively lobby their way into continued relevance. They have no place within the arts and culture sector, and soon they will have no place among wider society either. It’s time institutions like the British Museum, the Royal Opera House and the Scottish Ballet got on board.

I see no reason why Ireland—or anywhere—should be different.