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Culture Beyond Oil
Guest post: Kevin Smith, Platform
In the last couple of years, art-interventionists Liberate Tate have generated a lot of debate and column inches over the issue of oil sponsorship of the arts, through a series of dramatic performances in gallery spaces, often using molasses or other ‘oil like substances’. It may seem like a relatively trivial issue, but the fact that oil companies put so much energy and attention into their cultural sponsorship programmes leads one to suspect that it plays a key role in how they construct their ‘social licence to operate.’
This term widely used in business and government circles that usually applies to the process of engendering support for a company’s activities in the communities who live close to their factories, oil wells, and so on. This term can shed light on how corporations construct public support far from the places of extraction or manufacture — for example how BP builds support in London. The construction of the social licence to operate is what links gallery-goers in London to the devastation of boreal forests and indigenous communities in Canada through tar sands extraction.
As part of the next stage in the campaign to drive oil companies out of the arts, Platform, Art Not Oil and Liberate Tate are launching a glossy art publication called ‘Not if but when – Culture Beyond Oil’. The single issue, limited edition publication features artworks in dialogue with the BP Gulf of Mexico catastrophe and articles that set out the compelling arguments for an end to BP and Shell’s murky involvement with many of the nation’s favourite cultural institutions.
On Tuesday 29th of November, German artist Ruppe Koselleck will be spending the day making unique oil monographs in each of the 1,000 publications using oil that he collected washed up on the shore from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In the evening, from 6.00 to 8.30 at the Free Word Centre in London, we’re launching the publication, with some music, nibbles and some short presentations. And we’d love you to come down too.
Even if you aren’t based in London, you can still order an advance copy of the publication here. All the money raised beyond the printing and distribution costs will be going towards the campaign work.
Breaking the sponsorship link between Tate and BP will not alone prevent the devastating tar sands projects being inflicted across the Northern wildernesses of Canada. By creating and informing a public debate that questions the legitimacy of these companies in being associated with respectable and cherished cultural institutions, we can strengthen attempts to hold them accountable in other political and financial spheres. This is an essential step in ending the stranglehold that the companies have on the corridors of power – a major obstacle that we face in the transition to a low carbon society.
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