A North East ‘Unwelcome’ to Ian Blatchford from Science Museum

Bright and early on a breezy Tuesday morning, a small group of local rebels headed to the newly named Glasshouse on the Newcastle-Gateshead Quayside, previously known as the Sage.

These activists were demonstrating outside the Museums Association Conference 2023 on 7 November in protest at the fossil fuel sponsorship of the Science Museum. The director of the Science Museum Group Ian Blatchford was to be speaking at the conference and was given a very clear North East unwelcome. Members of XR North East wore masks of Ian Blatchford’s face, holding a banner saying “Science Museum: Funded by Fossil Fuels” as he arrived to speak on a panel alongside Parliamentary Under Secretary for DCMS Lord Parkinson and Baroness Lola Young.

As delegates arrived to register for the conference, they were handed a leaflet explaining the Science Museum stance on fossil fuel funding. The Science Museum has seen regular protests in recent years but refuses to reject this sponsorship from fossil fuel giants Shell, BP, Equinor (the developer of the controversial Rosebank oilfield) and Adani, the world’s biggest private producer of coal. In fact, Sir Ian Blatchford has previously commented: “Even if the Science Museum were lavishly publicly funded I would still want to have sponsorship from the oil companies.” Adani sponsors the upcoming “Energy Revolution: Adani Green Energy Gallery” which is set to open in 2024 and focus on climate science and energy solutions. Adani Green is still Adani. It’s greenwashing, pure and simple.

The XR rebels engaged in conversation with many delegates who thanked them for the protest and entirely agreed that this fossil fuel sponsorship is unacceptable and has to stop. It’s not an easy decision in some respects: as one delegate commented ‘If we don’t accept evil money, then how will we survive?’ However, earlier this week, UK museums agreed to take collective action on climate change at a “Museums COP” held at the Tate Modern and since 2016, 16 major UK cultural organisations have cut their ties to fossil fuel funding, including museums and art galleries such as Tate, the National Portrait Gallery and National Museums Scotland.

Working in conjunction with the campaigns and research organisation Culture Unstained, Tyneside XR held flags and banners to spread the message that there is NO FUTURE IN FOSSIL FUELS. Isobel Tarr, Co-Director at Culture Unstained said: “Museums are playing a leading role in climate action, but the Science Museum is lagging far behind the rest. Director Ian Blatchford is the driving force behind the museum’s decision to keep taking fossil fuel money at a time when the sector at large is rejecting it.”

Anne Blair-Vincent, a South Shields grandma who joined the protest, said, “I have huge fears for my children’s and grandchildren’s futures. I’m deeply saddened that the Science Museum continues to accept sponsorship from fossil fuel companies which are driving the climate emergency. Other cultural institutions as well as the Church of England investment body have all concluded that engagement with fossil fuel companies is incompatible with their values.”

Tony Waterston, a retired paediatrician, said, “I condemn the sponsorship of the Science Museum by the fossil fuel industry. The Science Museum should be following the science which tells us forcefully that no more fossil fuels should be taken out of the earth if we are to have any chance of keeping global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees. That means no investment in fossil fuels – full stop. I’m doing this for nature, biodiversity and the present generation of children to ensure that they have a liveable world when they grow up.”

An article about the protest appeared on the day in the Museums Journal. You can see the article here. At 11:15 when Ian Blatchford stood up to speak, Tyneside XR organised a Digital Rebellion on X (previously Twitter), using the hashtag #museums2023.

Here are two more compelling reasons why putting pressure on Ian Blatchford and Science Museum to break ties with fossil fuel companies.

Adani has a joint venture with Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms company, manufacturing Hermes 900 UAVs, marketed as ‘battle-proven’, after their use in Gaza.

Equinor, the Norwegian state oil company, sponsors the Wonderlab gallery aimed at children.

Check out Culture Unstained to find out more and see what you can do.