Greenpeace Bullies the Arts to Get at BP

Enough already with the anti-BP protests regarding its arts sponsorship. Last week, protestors staged a funeral march to the Tate gallery, a beneficiary of BP grants, and spilled an oil-like substance on the museum’s exterior. The subsequent video has circulated like greased lightning around the Web.

Why all the interest in arts sponsorships? Because it’s an easy mark, and because some folks in Britain actually bothered to get off their asses and protest creatively. Most of us sit paralyzed in horror as we watch the Gulf waters turn a toxic brown color.

Truthfully, if BP should be accused of anything in association with its sponsorship of arts institutions, it’s that it’s too little money. Come on! Des Violaris, BP’s U.K. director for arts and culture, admits spending on arts was little more than 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) a year. Spent across four or five major institutions, it’s a drop in the bucket.

Consider that companies, BP included, pour millions into sponsoring auto racing, the ultimate in fossil fuel excess. Then there’s BP’s expensive relationship with FIFA. Costly as these deals are, they return very little to the world in terms of education or enlightenment compared to the arts.

So why is Greenpeace bullying the Tate for taking BP funding? Because it can. It’s an easier target than facing down the dudes over at FIFA or auto racing. And frankly, it’s shameful.

BP’s sponsorship of the arts has been a brand-building exercise for the petroleum giant for decades. Greenpeace would have us believe it’s a hasty attempt to wash clean the company’s besmirched reputation.

To be sure, BP deserves all the rancor the world can muster for this disaster. But making arts and culture the whipping boy is a little like throwing Martha Stewart in jail for acting on a stock tip, while Bernie Madoff went on to fleece people out of millions.

More disheartening is my suspicion that Greenpeace sees an opportunity to build its own non-profit brand in the fracas. And it doesn’t seem to mind bludgeoning a group of socially significant organizations to make its point. Especially not when the cameras are rolling and people need a scapegoat. Here’s hoping the arts don’t take it lying down. Is it time for a smack down?