Court orders Tate to disclose BP sponsorship figures

“Tate shall disclose within 35 days from the date of this decision the BP sponsorship figures from 1990 to 2006 inclusive.” 

Information Rights Decision of the First Tier Tribunal, 22 December 2014

The UK’s Information Tribunal has ordered art museum Tate to disclose the sum of money oil company BP paid as a sponsor over the years from 1990 to 2006 as well as records of internal decision-making on the controversial sponsorship deal Tate had also sought to keep secret [1]. Liberate Tate has been amongst the groups calling for this transparency.

The Freedom of Information court ruling comes after a three-year legal fight that began with Tate’s refusal to disclose sponsorship information requested by a Liberate Tate member in December 2011 [2]. The case was taken up by Request Initiative, working with campaign group Platform, and law firm Leigh Day resulting in a major legal victory for the movement to break support of fossil fuel companies by public cultural institutions in a time of climate change [3].

Anna Galkina of Platform, part of the Art Not Oil Coalition, said:

“We are delighted the sponsorship figures will be revealed. Tate’s sponsorship deal provides BP with a veneer of respectability when in reality it is trashing the climate, and involved with a series of environmental and human rights controversies all around the world. Tate can do without BP, considering the deal is likely worth less than 0.5% of Tate’s budget. Sponsorship secrecy makes BP seem more indispensible than it really is – and our culture must dispense with oil corporations.”

Photo credit Martin LeSanto-Smith

Photo credit Martin LeSanto-Smith

A Liberate Tate art intervention took place in September at Tate ahead of the court hearing this month’s ruling comes from [4]. ‘Hidden Figures’ saw over a hundred members and supporters of Liberate Tate carry out an unsolicited interpretation of Malevich’s iconic Black Square in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall as a dramatic reference to Tate’s refusal to disclose information about its controversial sponsorship relationship with BP.

Liberate Tate member Glen Tarman, who made the original FOI request, said:

“I’m part of a wider effort to bring more light on to why and how it is that a major cultural institution like Tate has been hijacked by an oil company for its own corporate interests. The art museum has been holding back information due to BP and now the UK courts agree Tate has to act in the public interest.  Tate’s stated vision is to “demonstrate leadership in response to climate change” yet it’s promoting one of the three companies most responsible for climate change.

“It’s not Tate’s job to push the fossil fuel industry. It’s Tate’s job to promote public enjoyment of art. Climate change is causing massive harm and that one of the main culprits is being given our nation’s art to market itself as socially responsible is a serious matter for those that care about the deaths and human suffering climate change is bringing. Public arts institutions like Tate need to be transparent, accountable and a creative part of society’s solution to climate change not part of the problem. We need to liberate Tate from BP.”

For years Tate has held back on making public what had quite legally been asked for. The institution even argued in court they couldn’t release the contents of this information as it would “likely increase protests at Tate and therefore prejudice public safety” – a move seen as showing contempt for both freedom of expression and for the concerned Tate members and other citizens that peacefully protest against climate changing companies or take part in performances by Liberate Tate about art and oil. The Information Tribunal were rightly “wholly unpersuaded” by this argument.

Rosa Curling, the solicitor from Leigh Day who has been working on the case, said:

“Tate argued that these figures should be kept secret, that their disclosure would “upset” BP and deter the company and others from becoming sponsors. The Tribunal resolutely rejected this argument and has ordered that the BP sponsorship figures are now released. It is crucial these sponsorship figures are in the public domain. The long standing relationship between BP and the Tate is controversial. Only when the public are fully informed about how much money Tate actually receives from the company, can a properly informed debate take place about whether BP is an appropriate sponsor for the art gallery and its work.”

Tate and campaigners have 28 days to appeal the Tribunal’s decision.


  1. The Information Tribunal ruling by Judge Andrew Bartlett QC and the panel is available online here. This ruling was on appeals from notices issued by the Information Commissioner from the Information Commissioner in Decision Notices Nos FS50493467 dated 10 December 2013 and FS50493468 dated 4 March 2014.
  1. The original Freedom of Information request by Glen Tarman is online on the What do They Know website ‘2011 decision to accept BP’s offer of renewal of sponsorship’.
  1. Request Initiative Platform Leigh Day
  1. See Liberate Tate press release ‘Giant Black Square Unveiled In Tate Modern As Part Of BP Sponsorship Performance Protest’. Images of ‘Hidden Figures’ performance by Liberate Tate responding to the Freedom of Information appeals can be found at:




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