One of the museum’s success stories, BP has given millions of pounds to the BM since 1996, but apparently neither of them can afford to cover the cost of the national minimum wage for the BM’s conservation interns.
BP or not BP? A ‘climate of fear’ of losing jobs and funding…
The Reclaim Shakespeare Company’s ‘BP Vikings’ have protested (and are petitioning) against the BP Exhibition: Vikings – Life and Legend (which, despite its sponsorship, still charges a £16.50 entry fee). However, as playwright-director Mark Ravenhill told Paul Mason, ‘there is explicit pressure from the Arts Council… never [to] be seen to say no to any form of corporate sponsorship’ and, anyway, ‘theatre is in too deep and can’t afford to sever ties with banks or big oil’.
The art of the possible
Similarly, the BM argues that it is ‘only possible to develop and host temporary exhibitions with this kind of external support’. But how is it possible to develop and advance the museum sector without a diverse and secure workforce? Why are temporary exhibitions an essential expense, but trainee workers’ wages an unaffordable luxury?
As I’ve mentioned before, the British Museum’s conservation internships are unpaid, and they have remained unpaid despite multinational corporations’ multi-million pound funding. If the BM insists upon greenwashing the massively polluting and grossly criminally negligent BP in return for 0.4% of the museum’s income, why is it doing so with temporary exhibitions instead of basic training, which would make its own work sustainable and enable genuine access to cultural heritage work?
Did BP refuse to fund conservation training, or did the BM not ask? If BP refused, what does that say about its commitment to culture, and why did the BM accept its sponsorship? If the BM didn’t ask, what does that say about its own expectations of and for its workforce?