New report for the first time quantifies the “bad romance” between arts and fossil fuels

Artists and climate activists are calling for an end to the “bad romance” between arts organisations and gas companies, as a new report from Swinburne University of Technology researchers, launching on Thursday August 10, for the first time quantifies fossil fuel company partnerships with the arts.

The report, Bad Romance: Coal, gas, and oil sponsorship in the Australian arts industry, was commissioned by climate activist group 350 Australia and finds:

  • The number of partnerships with fossil fuel related organisations in the arts sector has been decreasing in recent years, often in response to community demands.
  • 6.3% of the 127 major arts organisations examined in this report have partnerships with fossil fuel companies who undertake coal, gas, and oil extraction.
  • The arts organisations are primarily located in Western Australia and the Northern Territory with other organisations based in the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and South Australia.
  • The relatively small financial value provided by fossil fuel sponsors and partners for arts organisations could be replaced by arts organisations over time, especially with support from governments, whereas the benefits that arts provides to coal, oil, and gas corporations would be much more difficult to replace for these corporations.
  • Arts organisations risk reputational damage posed by being associated with fossil fuel companies given shifts in public sentiment.
  • Partnerships with coal, oil, and gas miners include those with symphony orchestras, major festivals, museums and galleries, and dance and theatre companies.

Artists and activists are calling for arts organisations to ban sponsorships with fossil fuel companies driving the climate crisis, similar to how unethical industries such as tobacco, asbestos and weapons are banned.

According to Swinburne University Associate Professor Adam Karg, lead researcher for the report, “Our research shows there remain numerous active sponsorships with fossil fuel generating companies within the arts sector, with many of these linked to specific regions where mining activities take place.

“While the total level of fossil fuel sponsorship investment within the arts is moderate, coal, oil and gas companies do derive many significant and unique benefits from arts sector partnerships.

“Similar to sport and other high involvement sectors, we have seen the number of partnerships with fossil fuel related organisations in the arts sector decrease in recent years. This has often been a response to increasing calls from communities demanding high levels of alignment between organisational values of organisations and the commercial partnerships they hold and support.

“Going forward, questions remain for arts organisations, as to whether continued alignment of fossil fuel companies adequately fit with the expectations of artists, supporters and other partners.“

According to award-winning filmmaker Maya Newell of the unquiet collective, director of feature-length documentaries Gayby Baby, In My Blood It Runs, and The Dreamlife of Georgie Stone, “I can no longer see a situation where I could use funds that actively contribute to the climate catastrophe we are in, even if that was somewhat offset by beautiful important work. We need to come together as a sector and work on ways to enable all of us to make these important ethical transitions. This is a moment in time and a calling card for alternative funders to fill the gap and stop letting fossil fuel companies buy social licenses in the arts.”

According to 350 Australia CEO Lucy Manne, “July 2023 has been confirmed as the hottest month on record, as people flee wildfires and suffer through extreme heat across the northern hemisphere. Meanwhile, as the world burns, fossil fuel companies are making obscene profits by pouring fuel on the fire.

“As we reckon with the terrifying impacts of the climate crisis, art can help us create a new and kinder world. But the arts are being used by fossil fuel companies to buy public support, through sponsorships that allow them to plaster their logo across festivals, galleries, concert halls and theatres.

“This is why it’s so important that we all use our power as an audience member, a performer, an arts worker, a board member, or a donor to put an end to fossil fuel company greenwashing.”

According to Arrernte playwright Declan Furber Gillick, “Despite all the multi-million dollar PR pivots and greenwashed rhetoric, we know that fossil fuel corporations and their lobbyists still have their hands in the pockets of politicians and their boots on the throats of our ecological futures.

“The fossil fuel industry has much to gain from associating itself with us – both ideologically and economically. But we have nothing to gain from associating with them. Associations, donations and sponsorship from the fossil fuel industry are increasingly seen as a form of blacklisting for forward-thinking organisations in the arts and beyond.

“Artists and arts workers have had enough. The stage, the page and the arts workers’ wage are no place for climate-change hush money.”

The calls from artists are the latest in a wave of momentum calling for sports, arts, cultural and community organisations to end partnerships with coal and gas corporations. This has included Cricket Australia dropping Alinta as a sponsor, Santos being dropped from the Darwin Festival, and Questacon cutting ties with Shell and Inpex. The City of Sydney and other councils are voting to ban all fossil fuel sponsorships of their events.

According to 350 Australia, whose national campaign Cut All Ties tracks these partnerships across sectors, 10 organisations have pledged not to take funding from fossil fuel companies, and 16 have recently cut ties with fossil fuel partners.


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