Advocates have criticized the British Museum for being “remarkably disconnected” following its disclosure of a decade-long, £50 million collaboration with BP, aimed at funding a monumental renovation project in the museum’s history.

On Tuesday, the museum unveiled its plans for an ambitious overhaul, termed the “masterplan,” with an estimated cost of £1 billion. This initiative is set to completely modernize its historic yet deteriorating Bloomsbury site in central London, leading to a comprehensive reexhibition of its entire collection.

Described by the museum as a project of “immense scale, intricacy, and significance,” this masterplan is positioned as one of the most crucial cultural renovation endeavors ever embarked upon. The institution highlighted BP’s contribution as the largest single donation ever received by the UK’s cultural sector, earmarked for the architectural refurbishment of galleries on the museum’s west side, showcasing ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts.

However, this financial backing has been met with strong opposition from activists who accuse BP of attempting to launder its environmental image.

Chris Garrard, from the activist group Culture Unstained, lambasted the agreement as “remarkably disconnected,” “utterly indefensible,” and announced intentions to contest it formally. Garrard criticized the museum’s decision to engage with a company he describes as detrimental to the planet, accusing it of ignoring the ongoing climate crisis and the cultural sector’s growing rejection of fossil fuel investments.

The British Museum has become a battleground for protests, a trend that appears poised to persist. The theatrical protest group BP or Not BP? expressed outrage, stating that aligning with a major polluter undermines any claims of sustainability and vowed to halt the deal, denouncing it as a form of climate denial.

Doug Parr of Greenpeace UK criticized the museum for undermining its educational responsibility by accepting funds from an industry known for its environmental harm. He pointed out the trend of cultural institutions severing ties with the fossil fuel sector, highlighting the controversial nature of BP’s sponsorship as a glaring instance of greenwashing.

In recent years, several arts organizations, including the National Portrait Gallery, Tate, and the Royal Opera House, have distanced themselves from BP. The British Museum’s continued association with BP, thought to have concluded after 27 years, has taken many by surprise.

A museum spokesperson emphasized the dire need for renovation and the necessity of corporate and private donations to achieve significant modernization. The museum expressed gratitude for BP’s support, viewing it as crucial for its future.

The museum’s trustees, led by former Conservative chancellor George Osborne, unanimously approved the BP sponsorship, despite some voiced personal reservations. The decision follows a challenging period marked by scandals, including the theft of up to 1,500 artifacts and the subsequent resignation of key museum officials.

Amid these controversies, the museum announced plans for a new energy center aimed at eliminating fossil fuel usage on its premises, a move juxtaposed with its acceptance of BP’s sponsorship. Unlike other major renovations, such as the Rijksmuseum’s and the National Portrait Gallery’s closures, the British Museum plans to remain open throughout its transformation.

Louise Kingham of BP expressed pride in the partnership, emphasizing the museum’s role in offering global perspectives to its visitors. Charlie Mayfield, leading the museum’s masterplan committee, highlighted the urgency of refurbishing the museum’s aged infrastructure, heralding the masterplan’s significance and its progression.

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