THE Edinburgh International Festival can afford to cut sponsorship ties with BP, campaigners say.

Protest group BP or not BP? yesterday staged a day of action at the annual arts event, performing anti-BP “guerilla theatre” outside the Usher Hall and within festival headquarters The Hub.

The action was supported by Fringe performers and environmentalists and follows similar action against BP-sponsored events at the British Museum, the Tate galleries and the National Portrait Gallery.

Yesterday organisers urged the EIF to stop “legitimising” the fossil fuel sector and keep its money away from the arts.

BP or not BP? member Jess Worth said: “Allowing BP to sponsor major cultural events helps to legitimise them. They are major political players who are blocking environmental progress in a really serious way.

“There is no greater challenge facing the world today than climate change and they really are the baddies. Any organisation that has a sustainability policy or strong values around the environment has to apply that to their sources of funding.”

The group formed in 2012 after BP became a sponsor of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and has since sent “BP Vikings” into the British Museum and performed a version of MacBeth inside a BP-sponsored exhibition at Tate Britain.

Footage of a “human oil spill” inside the British Museum has been viewed more than 80,000 times online. Yesterday they re-enacted the stunt in Edinburgh, telling onlookers it is “time to set the festival free”.

Fringe First award winner Daniel Bye, actor Simon McBurney and Green MSP Alison Johnstone were amongst those joining in, with environment campaigners Edinburgh University People and Planet, and Friends of the Earth Scotland.

BP has supported the EIF for more than 30 years, but the size of its donations are unknown: neither the firm nor the EIF will comment on the matter.

However, inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act revealed the firm’s finances make up only between one and three per cent of the annual funding of institutions such as the British Museum, which has received less than £7 million from the oil giant in 11 years. The Tate was given just £3.8m in 17 years.

Worth hit out at arts organisations and BP, accusing both sides of refusing to “engage with the debate”.

She said: “I find it really frustrating. They are putting their name to these festivals, these museums, these galleries but when there is an ethical debate they won’t engage with it.

“It’s the same for the venues themselves. They always issue the same statement, which is ‘we are really grateful to our sponsors, we couldn’t put on everything that we do without them.’ That needs to be challenged.”

She continued: “We have a lot of sympathy for arts organisations that are facing massive funding cuts.

“The current government is talking about even more dramatic cuts to arts funding at the moment. But it’s not such a problem for the institutions supported by BP because they pick the biggest institutions who get the most public support and the most funding.

“The Edinburgh International Festival really can afford to drop BP as a sponsor and will be able to replace that funding.”

Worth added: “Cultural institutions no longer take money from the arms industry or from the tobacco industry so there is already a moral line being drawn.

“We are arguing that the oil industry should be the same.”

A BP spokesperson refused to comment on yesterday’s protest, but said sponsoring the EIF “seems like an appropriate thing” for the company to do, given the extent of its operations in Scotland.

The firm employs around 3,500 people in the North Sea.

Meanwhile, the EIF said its public funding was at a “standstill”, receiving less than £2.4m from Edinburgh Council and just over £2.3 million from Creative Scotland this year.

Total public income, including £200,000 from the Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fun, is at around £5m, while “earned income” from sponsorship, ticket sales and donations amounts to £6.2m. However, it would not say how much of that revenue comes from BP.

A spokesperson for the EIF said: “The Edinburgh International Festival is grateful to all of the public and private sector organisations which support the Festival and make it possible for us to present world class work to the widest possible audience ... We also support free speech and the right to peaceful protest.”

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