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Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts

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As major oil companies face continual public backlash, many have found it helpful to engage in “art washing”—donating large sums to cultural institutions to shore up their good name. But what effect does this influx of oil money have on these institutions? Artwash explores the relationship between funding and the production of the arts, with particular focus on the role of As major oil companies face continual public backlash, many have found it helpful to engage in “art washing”—donating large sums to cultural institutions to shore up their good name. But what effect does this influx of oil money have on these institutions? Artwash explores the relationship between funding and the production of the arts, with particular focus on the role of big oil companies such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell.             Reflecting on the role and function of art galleries, Artwash considers how the association with oil money might impede these institutions in their cultural endeavors. Outside the gallery space, Mel Evans examines how corporate sponsorship of the arts can obscure the strategies of corporate executives to maintain brand identity and promote their public image through cultural philanthropy. Ultimately, Evans sounds a note of hope, presenting ways artists themselves have challenged the ethics of contemporary art galleries and examining how cultural institutions might change.


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As major oil companies face continual public backlash, many have found it helpful to engage in “art washing”—donating large sums to cultural institutions to shore up their good name. But what effect does this influx of oil money have on these institutions? Artwash explores the relationship between funding and the production of the arts, with particular focus on the role of As major oil companies face continual public backlash, many have found it helpful to engage in “art washing”—donating large sums to cultural institutions to shore up their good name. But what effect does this influx of oil money have on these institutions? Artwash explores the relationship between funding and the production of the arts, with particular focus on the role of big oil companies such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell.             Reflecting on the role and function of art galleries, Artwash considers how the association with oil money might impede these institutions in their cultural endeavors. Outside the gallery space, Mel Evans examines how corporate sponsorship of the arts can obscure the strategies of corporate executives to maintain brand identity and promote their public image through cultural philanthropy. Ultimately, Evans sounds a note of hope, presenting ways artists themselves have challenged the ethics of contemporary art galleries and examining how cultural institutions might change.

30 review for Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts

  1. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm

    As is the case with many terms currently doing the rounds (such as Metrosexual), ‘Artwash’ was a term openly used in management and branding circles, with, as Mel Evans points out in the excellent assessment of corporate sponsorship, advisors cautioning against its efficacy while recommending the practice as strand in a corporate programme to protect a social licence to operate. In making this point, however, Evans is concerned to ensure that the full range of effects of this attempt to sanitise As is the case with many terms currently doing the rounds (such as Metrosexual), ‘Artwash’ was a term openly used in management and branding circles, with, as Mel Evans points out in the excellent assessment of corporate sponsorship, advisors cautioning against its efficacy while recommending the practice as strand in a corporate programme to protect a social licence to operate. In making this point, however, Evans is concerned to ensure that the full range of effects of this attempt to sanitise destructive corporate activities is grasped, and she does so effectively. She sums it up clearly when she notes: On one continent, a grandmother strives to pass on language, craft and survival skills while across the land or sea another elder takes her grandchild to see the Picasso. Neither wishes to silence the other. But in Canada BP risks ending a cultural conversation between generations and communities. And BP sponsorship in London covers this up, in the guise of providing access to the latter familial pair. (pp 127-8) The struggles of the campaign group she focuses on here (and was a leading member of), Liberate Tate, are tied into wider campaigns for climate justice, and for other corporate activity such as the continuing campaign for major institutions to divest from fossil fuels and for workers’ rights in the construction and operation of arts institutions. The book is also timely, published in 2015, early in 2016 BP announced its intent to withdraw from its sponsorship of the Tate. This question of a social licence to operate is at the heart of this analysis of corporate sponsorship, where Evans links the problematic status of oil company sponsorship to the earlier debates over tobacco and arms industry support making the powerful point that in these cases legislation followed changes in public opinion. A part of the case I really appreciate is a careful distinction about what she means by ‘public’, and the way that an emphasis on major national cultural institutions (as was the Shell/BP tactic – Tate, V&A, Royal Opera House, Science Museum and so forth) was intended to build goodwill and trust with ‘special publics’ (as in elite opinion formers). This elite then constructs the opinion that grants that social licence: this is an acute attention to the politics of social and cultural power. The second compelling strand of the argument is the constraints this sponsorship places on galleries and gallery staff, highlighting that although the Tate maintains a public position of stimulating critique and social engagement, there are certain types of critique that taken to be unacceptable, as a place ‘we just don’t go’ – not that this is clearly articulated or spelled out. Here, although Evans doesn’t use this label, is something akin to a manifestation of Raymond Williams’ ‘structure of feeling’ – a kind of cultural code and understanding that we all just ‘know’ an act accordingly. This is the really insidious effect of these kinds of sponsorship: it’s not the logos all over the place although they are essential to the legitimating effect underpinning the social licence, but the implicit, understood realm of things we just don’t do and accordingly the silencing of practice and dissent…. And Evans is very good a laying those out, while highlighting the emerging creative momentum across the arts and issues of social justice that are bringing about changes. All of this is put into a convincing context centred on particular industries’ need to sanitise their image (oil, coal, tobacco arms and so forth), as well a long run tendency in British cultural policy to commercialise, financialise and commodify the arts sector, as it became the creative industries. Here she notes the emergence in the 1970s of lobby and interventionist groups from business that pushed for improved sponsorship and benefits to them of doing. She also uses the experience especially of sport in the wake of the ending of tobacco sponsorship to rebut arts institutions’ claims that these companies are essential, when there seem to be plenty of other options. The book is a fine balance of policy analysis, political economy interpretation and social movement evaluation by a movement insider. As such, Evans opens up the issues, exposes the operation of the oil industry and its goals and paints a compelling picture of an effective and successful movement for change. Just the thing for hard times, and highly recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Martha

    An interesting topic that problematises the funding of the arts from oil companies, and covers the effects of such sponsorship, the activism against it and the alternative possibilities. For me this book was insightful, and questioned the hypocrisy of the arts often support issues of advocacy and political artists, but willing take the support and funding from highly questionable institutions. (See the recent funding of the BAE of the Great Northern Exhibition) For me however, the book was highly An interesting topic that problematises the funding of the arts from oil companies, and covers the effects of such sponsorship, the activism against it and the alternative possibilities. For me this book was insightful, and questioned the hypocrisy of the arts often support issues of advocacy and political artists, but willing take the support and funding from highly questionable institutions. (See the recent funding of the BAE of the Great Northern Exhibition) For me however, the book was highly repetitive, with the same point made over and over again, which rather tires the issues. Also rather than thinking specifically about sponsorship, perhaps think more about other critical issues, such as the lack of diversity in collections or museum staff and the way institutions can be run in more environmental and ethical ways which may encourage a more questioning attitude towards such sponsorship.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I bought this book shortly after it was published and finally sat down to read it, but found myself incredibly disappointed. I largely agree with the premise—that corporate sponsorship in the arts can have concerning implications in everything from the public perception of museums to the shaping of narratives presented in exhibitions to the impact on funding from other sources. This book specifically examines the role of oil companies (largely BP) in British museums (largely the Tate). The autho I bought this book shortly after it was published and finally sat down to read it, but found myself incredibly disappointed. I largely agree with the premise—that corporate sponsorship in the arts can have concerning implications in everything from the public perception of museums to the shaping of narratives presented in exhibitions to the impact on funding from other sources. This book specifically examines the role of oil companies (largely BP) in British museums (largely the Tate). The author is an activist who has taken part in actions specifically targeting this relationship, and the book begins recounting uncritically a series of actions highlighting this problematic relationship. The work rapidly becomes a polemic largely relying on the work of a few scholars, mixed in with occasional statistics, anecdotal stories, bad rehashing of museum theory, and what I suspect are cherry picked quotes. As someone sympathetic to the book’s argument, I was looking to be convinced. Instead, I felt like I was sitting through a rambling, sometimes repetitive lecture with information being thrown at me. I’m not sure if I was supposed to be worn down by all of this or what the purpose was, but I rapidly become frustrated. Evans never really addresses larger funding issues other than making vague, unsupported statements about how oil funding scares away other sponsorship or how exhibitions funded by oil money clearly could have attracted other sponsors. She attacks anyone who isn’t as rabidly against oil money as she is (see: criticizing a curator answering questions about 20th century British art explaining she isn’t there to answer some unnamed activist (Evans?) question about BP). One by one, every woe of the modern world becomes the fault of BP ranging from the obvious (environmental destruction) to racism, lack of gender balance on museum boards, even the financial plight of artists. If anything, I found myself less, not more, convinced of Evans’ argument when I finished, which is unfortunate because I think there is a good argument to be made and I wish Artwash had made it. Evans seems to have a strong grasp of the subject matter, the broader landscape of museum theory, and robust research skills. I can only assume her passion for the subject overshadowed everything else and she wrote a book for a reader she assumed is as fixated on oil companies as she is. As a long form essay or article this might have been ok, but when extended to 175 pages, it becomes tiresome.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike Elm

    Eye opening

  5. 4 out of 5

    John Naylor

    I received this book for free via Goodreads First Reads. This was a new genre of book for me. I am not an art aficionado by any means. I enjoy visiting art galleries and museums as a hobby but I know my knowledge of art is poor compared to many. I know what I like to see and that would probably make an art student sigh. I also have not read much in the past on how art is funded or how public relations works for big corporations. I did learn a lot from this book in that regard too. My first though I received this book for free via Goodreads First Reads. This was a new genre of book for me. I am not an art aficionado by any means. I enjoy visiting art galleries and museums as a hobby but I know my knowledge of art is poor compared to many. I know what I like to see and that would probably make an art student sigh. I also have not read much in the past on how art is funded or how public relations works for big corporations. I did learn a lot from this book in that regard too. My first thought about this book when I first received it was that I thought it could be preachy about art sponsorship. I was glad to find out it was not. It is written in a way that presents its evidence well and uses a lot of research to back that up. It was an easier read than I expected too. The author has a way of explaining things that meant I never felt lost or confused throughout the book. It has opened my eyes to certain things and although I am sure there is bias in the text it has only made me want to research these things further. I found it a very interesting read and I would recommend it to students of art and those who have responsibility for the arts. I think 4 stars is a fair score for it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    I won this book in the Goodreads First Reads Giveaway. I appreciate just how much hard work the author had put into writing this book, but must admit that it did rather go over my head. I shall be passing this book on to my brother-in-law, who I know will have a greater understanding of this book than I.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Abby Lewis

    I won this book in the Goodreads First Reads Giveaway. I appreciate the work the author had put into writing this book, but must admit that the book itself wasn't my type of thing after all.. But no complaints!! I shall be passing this book on to someone who will appreciate and understand it more! Glad to of won the book though!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts: Big Oil and the Arts reviews the effects oil money donated to cultural institutions has on both parties, the way even artists have contested the morality of modern art galleries and how the latter might evolve. It is a truthful and detailed take on the reality involving the world of artists and business..

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jessy

    Great to read this after Tate dropped BP sponsorship and also an interesting case study around corporate sponsorship

  10. 4 out of 5

    Afonso Palma

  11. 5 out of 5

    Russ

  12. 4 out of 5

    Fee

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bacsa

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mich

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bacem

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  17. 5 out of 5

    Pluto Press

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marselia

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hayley Huckin

  21. 5 out of 5

    Grace

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ac Thebear

  23. 4 out of 5

    Russell Warfield

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie-Blue Delgado

  25. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cale Tilford

  27. 5 out of 5

    Graham Ainsley

  28. 5 out of 5

    Paula

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ekin

  30. 4 out of 5

    Allyson

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