January 28, 2020

Climate leadership not climate denial

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As a tediously conscientious Artistic Director of a theatre company, who receives the lion’s share of its income via Arts Council England’s Project Grants, I subscribed to ACE’s new podcast series “Creative Matters: The Art of Leadership” and gave them a listen. (What do you mean you haven’t heard them yet??!)

Episode 1 was nicely produced and provided some insight about relationships between CEOs and Board Chairs, and they’ve got that Kirsty Lang from the BBC presenting it. So far so good.

Episode 2 was where the problems started (listen from 24:30). It advertised itself as discussing “how organisations can demonstrate good leadership and governance in times of conflict and crisis.”

It featured a guy called Tim Crarer, Chair of Wiltshire Creative, who put forward his concept of good governance which involved taking sponsorship money from fossil fuel companies like BP. He also chucked in a factually incorrect statement about the effect of the RSC ending their BP sponsorship agreement on their cheap tickets for young people. His climate denying opinions went unchallenged in the discussion, and were agreed with by some. This is not my idea of good leadership in 2020.

To provide some context: this is a podcast released by the culture sector’s major funder, the distributor of state funding for art. It styles itself as providing best practice examples of cultural leadership. It is essentially an informal training aid endorsed by the state funder.

In ACE’s new ten year Strategy announced yesterday, Environmental Responsibility is one of their ‘Four Investment Principles’. Their desire is that “cultural organisations to act as leaders within their communities in terms of taking an environmentally responsible approach to running businesses and buildings”.

Tim Crarer’s comments couldn’t be further from ACE’s stated principles. So why are they endorsing his opinions by providing a platform for them?

Maybe you could argue that he’s just a bit out of step, its hard to raise money for the arts, issues that the public get wound up about are always changing – where do you draw the line about what is good money and what is bad money, and can’t you just take the bad money but do something good with it? He makes many of these points himself, check out the transcript.

What these positions ignore is the gravity of climate and ecological breakdown, its not just ‘another issue’, as ACE itself states in their new Strategy “The climate crisis and environmental degradation will be the most significant challenge facing all of us over the next decade and beyond.”

Fossil fuel companies like BP are not neutral players in this arena, far from it. Lobbying group BP or not BP highlights that BP has made the third biggest contribution to climate change of any company in history.

Art not Oil explains why fossil fuel companies pursue such sponsorship arrangements, and why these are so problematic:
“Oil companies cultivate arts and culture sponsorship relationships to help create a ‘social licence to operate’. This contributes to the veneer of legitimacy that enables them to keep expanding operations at a time of climate crisis and to stifle the demands for justice of those communities who live on the frontline of their destructive, polluting operations.”

In the light of the climate emergency the culture sector needs to stop using their social capital to launder the fossil fuel companies’ filthy reputations. And those who endorse the taking of this dirty money are engaging in a form of climate denial.

Its going to be a tough process to turn cultural organisations’ thinking around to dovetail with ACE’s new environmental principles, but the least you could expect is that they would lead from the front.

If you’d like to get involved with getting fossil fuel money out of culture, check out BP or not BP’s planned action at the British Museum on Saturday 8th February 2020.

(Image published under Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/quarriephotography/11443527473/)

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