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No more oil for the arts machine.

By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.

AFTER YEARS OF complaining about BP’s sponsorship Sir Mark Rylance has finally resigned from the Royal Shakespeare Company. BP is Big Oil, you see, and anything non-green designated Big by the citizens of Simpletonia is a Bad Thing. So BP is BT. Because BP’s prime business of extracting oil and gas from Mother Earth is contributing to the world-extinction climate crisis, according to Rylance. It’s cooking the planet, obstructing climate action, not paying enough tax, and receiving subsidies from the government.

One thing I’ve learned about lefties and luvvies when they talk about tax and big companies is that you can’t trust anything they say, mainly because they don’t seem to have an understanding of the basics of either tax or business. Except, I suppose, when it comes to finagling their personal accounts or blagging money out of funders (usually the government, ie, the taxpayer). Rylance is one of those people who believe the fantasy that all public funding shortages could be plugged if only the government levied and collected tax properly.

Not only that, but he thinks all the extra cash saved “could support the rapid transition to green energy we desperately need.” Yes, dear reader, all our energy problems could be cleared up just like that. Green Deliverance is just around the corner, if only the saps in government had the courage to turn it.

But, as Rylance himself admits, “this arts sponsorship business is tricky” — BP’s filthy lucre has been used to pay for a £5 a ticket scheme for 16 – 25 year olds. That would have to be scrapped or another source for the cash be found. What price idealism, eh?

How many members of the public care what BP contributes in sponsorship or what percentage of their capital they invest in developing renewables? I don’t care and I suspect very few others do either. What I would care about is finding that because the simpletons in government had instituted the ridiculous policies promoted by the green lobby the cost of heating and lighting my house had gone up extortionately, and that a whole array of oil-based products had become unavailable. What the Simpletonians fail to remember is that oil is used not just to fuel our cars, trains and aeroplanes and generate electricity in power stations but also to contribute to the production of thousands of household and industrial items, from aspirin and toothpaste to clothing, curtains, cables, pipes, packaging, computers, peripherals and heaven knows what else. Until the technologists come up with suitable replacements for such things, we shall have to continue drilling the fossil stuff out of the earth for some time to come. This is not a case of the politicians and ecowarriors snapping their fingers to conjure up overnight solutions.

It’s not just Rylance who’s obsessed with this blind virtue signalling in the arts world — a group of artists, including former Turner Prize winners (Whiteread, Gormley, Kapoor, Wearing and Wallinger) have signed a letter to the National Portrait Gallery demanding it dump its sponsorship from BP. The company currently pays for the BP Portrait Award, now in its thirtieth year and worth £35,000 to the winner. The previous sponsor was John Player, the tobacco company, who weren’t ethical enough either.

Big Baccy, Big Oil, what’s next? Big Bombs are out as is Big Pharma. Not many Bigs left. Except maybe Big Culture. Perhaps all those concerned, wealthy artists would care to pool some of their own cash. That way they’d be absolutely sure of its unsullied provenance. They’re already “on the right side of history”, of course, whereas the businesses that keep us warm and light our homes and cities are not.

Perhaps there will come a time when big corporate sponsors get sick of the criticism and give up on the arts altogether. The small amount of kudos, tax benefit and brand awareness gained through sponsorship will not seem worth the hassle of the righteous with their continuous letters and protests. I wouldn’t blame them if they did. I much preferred the days when artists of all kinds were dissolute, untrustworthy types who didn’t see themselves as world saviours, and more devoted to messing up their own lives than other peoples’.


suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. A Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Lincoln University (2005 – 2008), his poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press). Sucks to Your Revolution is a collection of his Fortnightly columns.

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