What should Tate have done differently?

David Carrington, What should Tate have done differently?, Arts Professional, 4 June 2015

David Carrington explains what arts organisations seeking commercial support can learn from the recent Tate/BP sponsorship freedom of information case.

In September last year Tate faced an Information Tribunal to appeal a court order to reveal information about its sponsorship deal with oil company BP, following three years of freedom of information (FoI) appeals by arts and campaigning groups Platform and Request Initiative. The groups’ appeal asserted that Tate’s refusal to disclose certain sponsorship information was against the public interest, namely growing concern around oil companies’ environmental and human rights impacts, including climate change. The two specific issues under appeal were Tate’s historic BP sponsorship figures 1990-2006, and Tate’s heavy redactions of its ethics committee meeting minutes in 2010 and 2011, where the decision to renew its sponsorship relationship with BP was deliberated. This was in the context of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Tate’s refusal to disclose the information through the original FoI request not only fuelled more media opportunities for those concerned by the oil sponsorship, but must also have been very costly to Tate in terms of time and lawyers’ fees. Furthermore, by initially refusing to disclose its ethical deliberations about renewing the BP relationship in 2011 (the announcement of a five-year renewal of BP’s sponsorship of Tate, Royal Opera House, British Museum and National Portrait Gallery was made in December 2011), Tate comes across in a less than transparent light. In December the tribunal judges issued their ruling that in the public interest Tate must disclose the BP sponsorship figures from 1990 to 2006, and that a great deal more of the redacted ethics committee meeting minutes – specifically its ethical deliberations on BP as suitable sponsor – must be unredacted.

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