Published in Arts Professional: The ethics of sponsorship

Arts, culture and heritage has always been an integral part of our business and client base, so we have been keeping one eye on the evolving developments of London’s Science Museum and its partnership with fossil fuel companies. But the partnership is not unique in its controversial nature – serious doubt exists that public institutions should be funded by companies which are effectively destroying the planet. Historically the arts has had a long and complicated relationship with big corporates and has spawned terms like ‘artwashing’ and ‘greenwashing’ which have found their way into modern lexicon.

This led us to write an article which analysed the ethics of this variety of sponsorship which was duly published in the industry-respected Arts Professional.

Read the Ethics of Sponsorship in Arts Professional


Our research unearthed some other corporate partnerships which didn’t make the final version but may be of interest to you here.

December 2021 Enlarge image

Institutions and their sponsors
(active / ended)

Sponsor: BP
Sponsorships: National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Royal Shakespeare Company, Edinburgh Festival, Tate Group, Royal Opera House, National Galleries of Scotland, Aberdeen Art Gallery

BP continues to sponsor a number of UK cultural institutions despite heavy criticism that has resulted in the termination of others. This week BP’s sponsorship of the National Portrait Gallery ended after 31 years. Leading actors, musicians and artists are also speaking out or refusing to be associated with the petroleum giant. Oscar-winning actor Sir Mark Rylance announced his resignation from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 2019 saying: “I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesman or anyone who wilfully destroys the lives of others alive or unborn.”

The sponsorship concluded the same year.

Although National Galleries of Scotland severed its ties with BP, Aberdeen Art Gallery continued its partnership stating it recognised “the contribution oil and gas has made to the economy not only regionally, but nationally”.

Sponsor: Shell
Sponsorships: Science Museum, South Bank Centre and BFI

Shell confirmed in early 2020 that it would not be renewing its deal with the South Bank Centre and BFI – a decision taken on its own although it was mutually agreed with the institute which said it was “committed to supporting a sustainable future”.

At the time of writing Shell continues to partner with the Science Museum but has come under renewed pressure in recent weeks as eminent pollution scientists have boycotted the museum.


Sponsor: Adani
Sponsorships: Science Museum

One might think the Science Museum had had enough of courting controversy over the summer, but no sooner had the protest ended, than the institution announced another sponsorship deal – this time with a subsidiary of Adani Group, a conglomerate with coal mining operations in India, Indonesia and Australia. The announcement came just two weeks before the start of COP26. Chris Rapley, who was once the director of the Science Museum, resigned in October from the museum’s advisory board citing his opposition to its sponsorship policy. TV presenter Hannah Fry also stepped down as a museum trustee because of its ties to Adani.


Sponsor: Equinor
Sponsorships: Science Museum

In 2016 Statoil, or as it is known now as Equinor, became the title sponsor of Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery at the museum. The partnership continues.


Photo by Simon Connellan on Unsplash


Sponsor: Ineos
Sponsorships: Former Team Sky (Team Ineos), New Zealand All Blacks

Ineos announced that it would sponsor the cycling team formerly known as Team Sky in March 2019. The British chemical company is the 13th largest producer of single-use plastics and is notorious for its carbon emissions, environmental pollution and for lobbying against green legislation. Subsequently the route of The Tour de Yorkshire – Team Ineos’ first outing – was lined with anti-fracking protesters as the company holds licenses to frack for shale gas across the county.

In July this year, the All Blacks signed a six-year deal with Ineos. Greenpeace has attempted to lobby against the deal before it went through. A Greenpeace campaigner said: “In the thick of the climate crisis, it’s gutting to see NZ Rugby sign a sponsorship deal with an oil and gas polluting conglomerate like Ineos that is responsible for driving us deeper into the climate crisis, and fouling the oceans with plastic pollution.”


Photo by Clifford on Unsplash

Sponsor: Uniqlo
Sponsorships: Tate Group, Le Louvre, MoMA

In 2016 Japanese fashion firm Uniqlo started sponsoring Tate Lates in a regular after-hours culture and social event, and in summer 2021 Uniqlo announced a further three-year collaboration with the gallery.

The company has hit the headlines on a number of human rights issues. Uniqlo has been named in several reports and investigations that it is one of several global retailers which rely on forced labour of minorities, such as Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region. China has been accused of multiple human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities; detaining more than one million for political “re-education”, forced females sterlisation, and even possible genocide.

Uniqlo has also been embroiled in a case with Indonesian garment workers who say they are owed $5.5 million after the company withdrew suddenly from a factory, which ultimately made the factory bankrupt.

Uniqlo has individual clothing collections in partnership with Le Louvre and MoMA.


Sponsor: BMW
Sponsorships: London Symphony Orchestra, Tate

BMW partnered with Tate from 2012 to 2020 to support BMW Tate Live, a programme of live and performance art. The vehicle manufacturer also sponsors a concert held annually in the capital by the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO).

It’s no secret that vehicle emissions are contributing to climate change; around a quarter of CO2 emissions come from transport and road vehicles – cars, trucks, buses and motorbikes – account for nearly three quarters of that. Research for the Guardian newspaper revealed that although publicly the automotive industry supports climate initiatives, it has also been pouring millions of dollars into lobbying against attempts to tackle global warming.

In September this year, activists in Germany filed a lawsuit against BMW for refusing to tighten carbon emissions goals.


Sponsor: Hyundai
Sponsorships: Tate

Hyundai’s partnership, established around 2015, with Tate has helped the gallery to acquire works of contemporary art and support their installation in the iconic Turbine Hall. This partnership has been agreed until 2025 at least. There has been no specific protest or complaint against Hyundai, despite the role the motor industry has on carbon emissions.


Sponsor: Qantas
Sponsorships: Tate

Tate and The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and Qantas work together to acquire contemporary Australian art through $2.75 million of funding from the airline’s foundation.

In April 2019, Extinction Rebellion protesters staged a mass “die-in” at Tate Modern to protest against climate change, and specifically the destruction of bee colonies.



Sponsor: Volkswagen

Sponsorships: MoMA

The largest car manufacturer in Europe has supported 40 projects with MoMA or MoMA PS1 since 2011. There have been no particular protests or media attention with this arrangement.



Sponsor: Sackler Trust
Sponsorships: National Portrait Gallery, Tate, Guggenheim, The Metropolitan Museum

Although not strictly related to climate, one major sponsor of the arts and cultural institutions has been the Sackler Trust, which claims to have donated more than £60m to UK organisations since 2010.

The affluent, philanthropic Sackler family who run the trust, pled guilty to criminal charges brought by the Department of Justice concerning its marketing of OxyContin – a drug which is said to have fuelled the American opioid crisis.

The Sackler Trust has donated to cultural institutions all over the world, including but not limited to: The National Portrait Gallery, Tate, Guggenheim, The Metropolitan Museum, Serpentine North Gallery
Le Louvre, The British Museum, The V&A, The Smithsonian, and the South London Gallery.

The National Portrait Gallery was one of the first major art institutions to give up a grant from the trust, with the Tate group of art galleries following suit just two days later. That was in March 2019, and later that month the trust announced it would halt all new philanthropic giving. Some institutions have chosen to keep the names of their benefactors over the doors of their institutions, while others have cut ties.


If you work in this sector and are interested in learning about how to navigate this area and help your institution protect itself against reputational damage from corporate sponsorship or other forms of private finance and donation then we have put together a guide which you can read here.