British Museum in London agrees to new £50m BP deal to fund major renovation plans

Renovations include a new research centre and shifting the site to low-carbon technology

People view examples of the Parthenon sculptures known in the UK as the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum in London. Reuters
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The British Museum has extended its partnership with oil company BP by another decade after striking a £50 million ($64 million) deal to help fund its renovations plans.

The museum said the money from the 10-year deal will be used to redevelop the Bloomsbury site in central London and ensure its collection will be available to the public for “generations to come”.

Environmental campaigners have urged the museum to end its sponsorship deal with BP over the years, with further backlash mounting after the details of the museum’s “master plan” were revealed on Tuesday.

The first phase of the plan will see the opening of a new archaeological research facility in June next year.

It will house items from rare Peruvian fabrics to ancient fingerprints preserved on 5,000-year-old antler picks in a bid to offer a “radically different approach to museum storage” by also enabling research and study by academics and members of the public.

Proposals for a new energy centre have been also submitted with the intention of “phasing out” the use of fossil fuels within the museum’s estate and replacing them with low-carbon technologies.

Applications are also set to open in spring 2024 for an international architectural competition to redevelop more than 7,000 square metres of gallery space.

The competition will focus on the Western Range, which currently houses collections including Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.

British Museum artefacts – in pictures

“The British Museum is one of the largest and most visited cultural institutions in the world but some of its buildings are over 200 years old and in urgent need of refurbishment,” Charlie Mayfield, chairman of the British Museum’s master plan committee, said.

“That’s why the master plan is so essential – and it’s exciting to be moving forward with our plans.

“Next year we will begin the process of completely overhauling our outdated energy infrastructure and replacing it with state-of-the-art facilities that will dramatically reduce our carbon footprint, and we will begin a global search amongst leading architects to find a partner to help us reimagine the famous Western Range.

“There’s so much to look forward to in 2024 and we are grateful to all our partners for their support.”

Louise Kingham, senior vice president of Europe and UK country chairwoman for BP, said: “The British Museum offers a window to the world for the millions of people that pass through its doors every year.

“As a business that has made Britain its home for over a century, we are proud to be a long-term partner to this important British institution and play our part in its future transformation – whilst helping to ensure that this iconic cultural venue remains freely accessible to all.”

Co-director of campaign group Culture Unstained Chris Garrard said the decision to renew the contract with BP was “astonishingly out of touch and completely indefensible”.

“We believe this decision is illegitimate and in breach of the museum’s own climate commitments and sector-wide codes and will be seeking legal advice in order to mount a formal challenge to it,” he added.

The master plan announcement comes after the museum’s director Hartwig Fischer resigned earlier this year following the stolen artefacts scandal which prompted a police investigation.

Mr Fischer admitted that it was “evident that the British Museum did not respond as comprehensively as it should have in response to the warnings in 2021” about the missing items.

Last week, it was announced that deputy director Jonathan Williams would also be leaving the institution.

A diplomatic row over the contested Elgin Marbles within the museum was also fuelled further last month by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refusing to meet his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis after he compared the artefacts’ removal with cutting the Mona Lisa in half.

Part of friezes that adorned the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis, the Elgin Marbles have been displayed at the British Museum in London for more than 200 years.

Updated: December 20, 2023, 5:25 AM