On Wednesday 3rd October 2012, the current season of the Shell Classic International concert series opened at the Southbank Centre, with a performance of Benjamin Britten’s ‘plea for peace’, the Sinfonia da Requiem. However, there is an unpleasant irony in this programme choice. Shell, the sponsor of the concert series, have now spent in excess of $65 million supporting Nigeria’s military task force, exacerbating conflict and human rights incidents. In recent years, Shell’s oil spills have contaminated the Niger Delta, their extraction plants in Canada’s tar sands have encroached upon the land of Indigenous peoples and now they have turned their attention to dangerous oil drilling in the shrinking Arctic. By giving their money and attaching their name, Shell is buying the social legitimacy of these high-profile concerts to keep their record of environmental damage and unjust practices out of sight. We represent a cross-section of the current and emerging generation of performers, composers, artists and audience members, that believe Shell’s sponsorship is tarnishing the reputation of the Southbank Centre. Even in a context of austerity and funding cuts, corporate sponsorship money does not exist in an ethical vacuum. Our arts institutions should provide a space for confronting injustice, not concealing it – we therefore urge the Southbank Centre to bring to an end its relationship with Shell.
We invite you to add your name to this open letter (below) to Alan Bishop,Chief Executive of the Southbank Centre. Please give your vocation/organisation in the box marked 'why is this important to you', to demonstrate the breadth of support.
(There is the possibility of publication in other media sources for this letter. In which case, no other information than your name and vocation/organisation would be given as your "signature")
For further information on Shell's activities in Nigeria, Canada and the Arctic, please see the following report:
As part of the current and emerging generation of performers, composers and audience members, we look to the Southbank Centre as a setting for excellence and innovation in the arts. The rich and varied programme at the Southbank Centre consistently demonstrates a commitment to these values, with an awareness of diversity, inclusivity and fair play.
We, the undersigned, believe that the Southbank Centre’s sponsorship relationship with Shell is undermining these values. Multiple organisations, including Amnesty International, Platform and Greenpeace, have identified damaging practices undertaken by Shell, which often call into question Shell’s consistency with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Shell’s record on environmental and social justice has been repeatedly investigated and many issues still remain unresolved. From investing in Canada’s carbon intensive tar sands, to exploration in the rapidly diminishing Arctic, and from multiple oil spills in the Niger Delta which are yet to be cleared, to funding Nigeria’s Joint Task Force and militia groups – there is a catalogue of urgent concerns regarding Shell’s activities.
Shell’s ongoing role as a sponsor of the Southbank Centre forms a smoke screen for these numerous damaging and unjust practices. The Shell Classic International series has previously featured individuals and ensembles that powerfully embody the values of social justice, such as Daniel Barenboim and the Simón Bolívar Orchestra. By promoting these kinds of artists and performers, the committed and honorable work of others and the pursuit of excellence in the arts are appropriated to Shell’s brand image. Their sponsorship of the Southbank Centre forces performers and audience members into a position of unwilling complicity in their activities. In a context of austerity and funding cuts, we understand that there is a necessity to secure a wide range of funding sources for the arts. However, we feel strongly that this should not be at the expense of integrity and justice. This is clearly a case where the Southbank’s own objective, ‘To demonstrate successfully that commercial entrepreneurship can live happily beside the demanding requirements of art-making and profit both’ can be questioned.
As groups and individuals that care passionately about the future of the arts, we strongly urge you the end the Southbank Centre’s relationship with Shell. We share a common vision of the arts, where they are uncompromised by external interests and are able to embody the values of fairness and social justice, a means for expanding the collective experience and consciousness of contemporary society.
We thank you for your consideration of this request.