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Amidst pressure, Southbank, BFI severe ties with oil company Shell

Southbank Centre in Britain became the latest to end oil sponsorship of art, as it disconnected its ties with the oil company Shell.

In recent years, activists have struggled to stop oil companies from sponsoring art institutions in an effort to whitewash their image, while they continue indulging in harmful activities. Southbank Centre joined these efforts as it ended its 14-year old partnership with Shell. The Southbank Centre comprises institutions like Hayward Gallery, National Poetry Library, Royal Festival Hall and many others. However, Shell maintains that the termination was mutual and the whole arrangement was “collectively worth around £20,000.”

Meanwhile, the British Film Institute also ended its collaboration with the oil company. Harriet Finney (director, BFI) told in an interview that his organization is committed to supporting a sustainable future.

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The current event was only the latest in a series of divestment steps, aimed at freeing the British art community from the grip of oil companies. Institutions like Tate Museum, Royal Shakespeare Company and National Gallery (Scotland) have already washed their hands of sponsorship from such companies. The British Museum has been facing long protests due to its continued association with BP.

Shell, one of the largest oil corporations, has repeatedly drawn flake over its environmental violations.

The termination of Southbank’s contract with Shell was celebrated by Culture Unstained (an organization committed to ending oil sponsorship at art institutions) as a “major win”. Chris Garrard (co-director, Culture Unstained) said that Shell has harmed indigenous communities and contributed to the climate crisis, and deflected attention from it by sponsoring “cultural neighbours”. He further said that the mounting pressure from activists has stopped companies like Shell from laundering its reputation and highlighted their ill-activities.