Open to a sustainable Tate

Dear Tate Membership Services,

It is 20 years exactly since my life took an exciting turn and I landed my first proper job, at the Tate. I had already visited many times through childhood and studied History of Art referring to its collections. I met my husband there and made life long friends of Tate colleagues. So I have enjoyed its collections, supported its mission and contributed to its development over four decades. This connection is one reason I became a member.

The other reason I continued to be a member was that I believed it was right to give money (I could not afford) to the Tate as a gesture of civic participation. I still believe it is better for Tate to be supported by citizens than to be funded by fossil fuel companies, who are destroying life on our only home planet.

However, I have thought about this long and hard and now feel it is time to end my membership. I was one of the Tate members who wrote as a group in serious concern about the continued sponsorship arrangement with BP. We received a delayed and inaccurate response, which told us that we could not address the Members Council on this matter, only the Trustees committee. This effectively told us that the Members Council (which includes Trustees) does not represent us as members, as it did not take into account our overriding concerns.

The negativity of this response throws into question Tate’s vision, which includes being:

  • Open by being receptive to new ideas, encouraging debate, exchange and collaboration within and beyond Tate, and by being more inviting to all people,
  • Diverse by presenting a range of different views, voices and perspectives across our programme and activities…
  • Sustainable by…demonstrating leadership in response to climate change.

The fifth assessment report of the International Panel on Climate Change is about to be released in October, just as my Tate membership is due to be renewed automatically. But the report has been leaked. It tells us that human-caused climate change will likely cause sea levels to rise by 3 feet within this century (and with potential for much earlier and more catastrophic melting of the Greenland ice sheet), wiping out many coastal and estuary cities. This rising threatens all four Tates, located as they are on coasts and estuaries. It tells us that most of the carbon we’ve emitted will remain in the atmosphere for a millennium.

Yes, I’ve been complicit in this process, as have we all. But it is insulting to suggest, as Tate spokespeople have done, that oil sponsorship campaigners are so complicit that they are no less ethical than companies such as BP. I have made strenuous efforts to reduce my footprint, to support green charities, and to discover and expose the central role of fossil fuel companies in causing climate change. They do this by lobbying to protect their industry by denying climate change, by polluting and acidifying the oceans and forests, by accelerating extraction technologies and new drilling locations, and while stopping or hampering investment in renewables. The major oil companies also have unjustifiable links to arms companies. Climate change worsens conflict by drastically reducing people’s access to food and resources. This has been proven to be behind conflicts in Egypt, Syria and across Africa. Nobody profits except landgrabbers, arms manufacturers and oil companies.

So, let’s boil down the IPCC’s message, based on the evidence of 830 conservative scientists. It means the planet will not sustain civilisation in future because of our extraction of fossil fuels. Climate change (combined with pollution and damage to ecosystems caused by companies such as BP) will cause deaths of billions of humans and the extinctions of millions of species over the next few decades.

This is not my fear speaking. I am speaking from research and reflection over many years. If I feel fear it is for all our children and their futures. I do not believe that an organisation such as Tate, which exists to educate and to preserve art for posterity, should have any relationship with a company that would be liable to be judged as acting criminally for its core activities (not just for some polluting incidents) if Ecocide were to be made an International Crime Against Peace. Major crimes of Ecocide very often contain or imply crimes of Genocide.

I would rather see Tate forgo buying some art works and not expanding its buildings, if that is the consequence of ending the sponsorship arrangement. It may be that when consciousness builds of oil companies’ role in catastrophic climate change, and as the sea rises, fewer people will want or be able to visit Tate, whether or not it is offering new facilities or collections.

This letter is not written explicitly to urge Tate to rethink its sponsorship, although I will continue to call for this in other ways. I am writing to revoke my own small contribution through a membership subscription while explaining the background to this decision. At the same time, I will publicise this letter so that other members are more informed to consider whether or not they might take the same action.

Please do not automatically renew my membership.

Yours Sincerely,

Bridget McKenzie

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2 responses to “Open to a sustainable Tate

  1. PS, just to explain the confusing title of this post. This is an open letter I’m sending to Tate, open so that others can decide on their own action. It also has a double meaning: One, I would be more open to a more sustainable Tate. Two, it is referring to Tate’s policy statement that it aims to be Open and Sustainable.

  2. Thanks for making such a clear but impassioned case for a Tate beyond BP. May other members hear your voice, and do what they can to change this situation for the better!

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