Dirty money in the name of culture

0 Posted by - June 30, 2010 - Blog, Editorial, Public art

It’s hard to be in Canada and blog about something other than the G20 riots and the gross treatment of citizens on the streets of Toronto this past Sunday, which Ezra addressed so fabulously in his post “The G20 summer blockbuster”. But here I am, talking instead about something affiliated with North America’s other contentious issue of the day – the oil spill.

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/secretagentarthur

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/secretagentarthur

Monday night saw a party of protesters outside Tate Britain, calling on the gallery to cut its ties to one of its large funding partners: BP.

As reported by the Guardian, “A group of artists under the name The Good Crude Britannia voiced concerns about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill,” and demonstrated outside of a launch party meant to display new art by Fiona Banner and to celebrate 20 years of BP support.

Jane Trowell, of environmental arts campaign group Platform, is reported saying “BP is trying to repair its tarnished reputation and buy our approval by associating itself with culturally important institutions like Tate. We hope that, as happened with the tobacco industry, it will soon come to be seen as socially unacceptable for cultural institutions to accept funding from big oil.”

For those unfamiliar with it (as I was, before spotting a tweet from @galleryatsui of Vancouver early today), Tate Britain is just one of a family of four galleries located in the UK that are responsible for the national collections of British art and of international art from 1900.

Tate is a substantial organization, with galleries in Millbank, London, Liverpool, and St Ives, and a huge web presence. While Tate is funded as a Non-Departmental Public Body by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, it generates over 60 percent of its income from non-governmental sources.

And according to Guardian writer Jonathan Jones, those non-governmental sources of funding don’t appear to be impacting the content of what Tate offers.

“In all the years I’ve been seeing exhibitions at Tate’s galleries, I have never once encountered anything that could conceivably have been construed as an advertisement for this or any other corporation, or for capital itself. Very much the opposite,” Says Jones, in an article written early on Tuesday.

Which, as someone who has been an Operations Manager for a non profit struggling to find money to allow us to meet our mission, brings me to the question:

If corporations are able and willing to donate to cultural causes and avoid attempts to exercise authority over content, should we just relax a little and be grateful for their contribution? Or, perhaps, take it specifically with the caveat that if they ever do try to exercise control over content that ties be broken and the non-profit make exorbitant cuts to programs and staff (as would likely become necessary without all that extra funding).

After all,
1. Not taking the money won’t close the gaping wound in the Gulf of Mexico
2. I highly doubt they’re concerned about making a profit just so that they can donate to Tate, so it’s not like Tate is influencing their decisions on expansion and drilling.
3. The alternative could be BP executives using that money to buy their thankless children Aston Martin’s in one of every colour, which really benefits no one.

But maybe that’s just the practical part of me speaking, the part that isn’t interested in throwing buckets of oil on the front of a gallery that contributes to its community

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