Organisations throughout the UK such as Rising Tide UK, Art Not Oil, Platform, CIWEM and many others have united to raise awareness of the oil industry’s insidious funding of the arts, questioning in particular the acceptance of BP’s sponsorship of The Tate and other art establishments. “Crimes against the environment are crimes against humanity,” said CIWEM’s Executive Director, Nick Reeves who believes the continuing acceptance of what he sees as “guilt monies” from the petro-carbon industries should come to an end.

CIWEM recently called on the government and trustees of cultural institutions to put a halt to the tyranny of oil patronage and cleanse the oil stains from the arts. “As the terrible and tangible effects of climate change unfold, we are incredulous at the degree of cognitive dissonance displayed by our society. As we witness the cynical environmental atrocities of oil corporations in their pursuit of wealth, influence and power at the expense of people, animals, plants, landscapes, the oceans and all habitats and living things, we must speak out,” said Reeves.

Activists recently infiltrated the British Museum and covered the plinth of the Easter Island sculpture with fake oil (molasses) in protest at British Petroleum’s sponsorship of the organisation. Three members of the group, called Culture Beyond Oil, wore death masks on a ‘sleepwalk’ to the stone statue before pouring the non-toxic black slick out of pewters emblazoned with BP's logo. “Oil sponsorship of public institutions is a problem that stretches way beyond BP and the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico,” said activist Ben Cooper. “The oil industry has a long history of environmental and human rights abuses, and is currently pulling us closer and closer to a potential catastrophe on a global scale. Just like the forests on Easter Island, oil represents a resource being over-exploited despite massively increasing risks. With our relentless search for oil we are risking the collapse of the ecosystems on which we depend – just as the inhabitants of Easter Island did 2,000 years ago”.

BP is one of the British Museum's most long-standing corporate partners, supporting the museum since 1996. In a statement the Museum responded to the activists saying, "We are grateful to BP for their ongoing support, which enables us to fulfil our mission of bringing world cultures to global audiences."

Over 170 artists have signed Platform’s petition condemning BP’s twenty-year sponsorship of The Tate, which states “As crude oil continues to devastate coastlines and communities in the Gulf of Mexico, BP executives will be enjoying a cocktail reception with curators and artists in the Tate Britain. These relationships enable big oil companies to mask the environmentally destructive nature of their activities with the social legitimacy that is associated with such high profile cultural associations.”

However, an online poll by The Guardian found that public opinion was divided by the issue with 45.9% saying that BP provided a vital source of funding for the arts, and 54.1% saying The Tate should distance itself from the environmental disaster.

Lorna Howarth is Development Director at Artists Project Earth.