Mark Rylance has quit the RSC over BP's sponsorship. Last week Stephen Schwartzman's donation to Oxford University was questioned in light of his association with Donald Trump. A month ago, Nan Goldin declared she will boycott the National Portrait Gallery if it accepts a gift of £1 million from the Sackler family due to their wealth coming from addictive prescription painkillers.
Mark Rylance compares BP to arms dealers and tobacco companies. Most ethical investors would add gambling, pornography and alcohol as questionable sources of income. Adding the environmental impact would include companies in the oil and gas, airlines, automotive and mining industries. If we also include the financial sector that invests in these companies, there would be few left in the FTSE100 (or any other exchange) that would be seen as clean sources of money.
So from whom should arts, education and charity accept donations?
Is it hypocritical to refuse money from a gambling company but accept it from the National Lottery?
Does the amount matter? If the amount was large enough to have a significant impact on a social problem, should we care where the money came from?
Does the cause matter? Is there a difference between accepting money to relieve poverty and accepting it to fund an opera production?
Charities, arts and education establishments should certainly consider these questions. But perhaps it is more important that we all, as individuals, consider our own actions, and strive to do more good than harm to our fellow man and environment.
Mark Rylance is brave to quit the RSC. That doesn’t mean he is right Mark Rylance: ‘I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer.’ Nan Goldin, whose focus on the murky source of Sackler family money forced the National Portrait Gallery to refuse its cash in March. But these days “the arts” are also used as a moral laundry for corporations, and this is what Rylance especially dislikes. Art-washing, to use the current term, only really works if theatres and the wider arts are considered good and worthy. It would certainly be more difficult to boycott BP directly, but it might be better than calling for an end to the RSC’s cheap ticket scheme for young people. Theatre is potentially a good way to bring us together to raise questions.