Climate campaigners won an important victory at the end of January when multinational oil company Shell was ditched as sponsor of the annual Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine `Wildlife Photographer of the Year' exhibition.
The campaign against Shell's sponsorship of the exhibition was co-ordinated by direct action group Rising Tide and was part of its Art Not Oil campaign which seeks to end oil industry sponsorship of arts and culture. Art Not Oil used creative direct action - often involving protesters dressed as endangered species - to highlight the absurdity of Shell's involvement in an exhibition centred on wildlife. Actions such as pouring green paint over the exhibition to illustrate Shell's use of cultural events to `greenwash' its image as well as occupying BBC Wildlife Magazine headquarters in Bristol and handing out leaflets to employees, proved very successful. The Bristol action marked a turning point as it became apparent that a lot of people working at BBC Wildlife Magazine were opposed to Shell's involvement and willing to raise the issue within the organisation.
Direct action was not the only method used to get the message across: letters were sent to trustees of the museum and to BBC Wildlife Magazine; leaflets were distributed at the Natural History Museum every month (their activities were so popular with the public that people often queued to take leaflets!); and campaigners set up a speaking tour of the UK - in conjunction with Friends of the Earth - with a South African activist sharing his experiences of Shell's destruction of wildlife and community.
One of the most effective responses to Shell's involvement was Art Not Oil's counter- exhibition `Shell's Wild Lie' (see p11), Art Not Oil showed the real picture behind Shell's business by inviting artists from all over the world to create pieces illustrating the damage done by Shell to communities, habitats and wildlife. The exhibition toured universities, cultural institutions and community centres across the UK and was even set up outside the Natural History Museum on the evening that the `Wildlife Photographer of the Year' competition was judged. As a result, the photographers, judges and dignitaries who were queuing for entry to the event got to see the alternative exhibition.
The `Wildlife Photographer of the Year' exhibition will be seeking a new sponsor. In the meantime, oil companies still sponsor art galleries, exhibitions and other cultural events and Art Not Oil continues to think of creative ways of putting s stop to this practice.