Campaigners celebrate end of Shell’s Southbank sponsorship

Campaigners and climate activists have welcomed the end of Royal Dutch Shell’s association with Southbank Centre.

The London venue’s 2014-15 classical season, announced earlier this month, will not include a series sponsored by the oil giant.

The former Shell Classic International series has seemingly been replaced by the International Orchestra Series.

Campaigners are celebrating the end of what they call ‘oil-branded concerts’, and condemn Shell for its record of environmental damage.

In recent months, climate groups have been putting pressure on the arts venue to bring an end to the partnership with Shell, with protests and open letters from concerned artists.

It is not clear which organisation initiated the end of the association, with the centre stating simply: ‘Shell’s sponsorship of this series will come to an end in June 2014 and Southbank Centre would like to thank them for their support over the last eight years.’

But many have speculated that the venue dropped Shell in response to growing campaign pressure.

In October Shell Out Sounds, a group of singers, musicians and activists who oppose Shell’s sponsorship of Southbank Centre, staged an unsanctioned performance from the Royal Festival Hall’s choir seats in protest of a Shell Classic International concert.

Shell Out Sounds © Hugh Warwick
Shell Out Sounds © Hugh Warwick

Shell Out Sounds’ Chris Garrard told IAM: ‘We are delighted with the news that one of the Southbank’s flagship classical music concert series will no longer be sponsored by Shell.’

He continued: ‘We were opposed [to the sponsorship] because we felt there was a cognitive dissonance between the values of Shell and the values of the art and music being shared with the public. We are all supporters of the arts and audience members of the Southbank Centre; it is a fantastic institution. We also felt that Shell’s reputation needed to be brought into the spotlight, and Shell Out Sounds’ performances were a way to raise awareness, educate and entertain.’

Shell Out Sounds - Southbank carol singing
Shell Out Sounds – Southbank carol singing

Shell has been criticised for environmental damage, including extensive oil spills and attempts to drill in the Artic. The corporation has even been accused of funding militant groups in Nigeria.

Garrard said: ‘Shell is responsible for over two percent of historical carbon emissions and is part of the problem which is fuelling climate change. By nestling their brand next to some of the world’s best orchestras, performers and composers, they attempt to keep these injustices out of sight.

‘Brand managers are aware that corporate sponsorship works like a form of cheap advertising; while they are a ‘household name’ we see them as being ‘family friendly’, when the reverse is true.’

Shell Out Sounds is part of Art Not Oil, a growing coalition of groups calling for an end to cultural sponsorship by large oil companies. Among these partnerships are BP’s sponsorship of Royal Shakespeare Company and the Tate.