Will Gompertz, the BBC’s highly paid arts/news editor, is about to be put on the spot. A former Tate Gallery staffer who lives in freely admitted awe of its director Nicholas Serota, Gompertz has given large dollops of attention to the Tate and such favoured artists as Francis Alys, Louise Bourgeois and Yinko Shonibare – and that’s in the past month alone.
But when it comes to the big Tate issue, his reticence is stupefying.
The Tate, along with other UK arts bodies, is facing waves of protest from environmental campaigners, outraged that a massive global polluter like BP can seek to cleanse itself in large donations to British art. The Tate’s chairman is Lord Brown, former head of BP. Next week, Brown will preside at the gallery’s summer fundraiser. Greenwash Guerillas intend to picket the party. It will be an uncomfortable occasion.
The Tate, along with the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Opera House have issued a statement defending their relationship with BP as legitimate and essential. The company is not, on the whole, an enemy of the people and the art it supports will last long after the last of its oil spill has washed away, along with its hapless present management. Indeed, without BP funds much grassroots art might never develop.
I happen to support that position. The arts cannot afford to be too scrupulous about sources of funding. If cheques are accepted from Russian robber barons and pension-stripping bankers, there is no reason to refuse them from BP, no matter how dirty its seas. The arts are not arbiters of morality or marine police. The arts have a right to accept BP cash.
Nevertheless, there is a heated public debate around BP’s arts role and the BBC ought to be reporting it. So far, not a peep from Gompertz. Not a hint that the Tate party might be less than jolly. Not a word on the Ten O’Clock News about the collision between arts and ecology, although several newspapers have reported it.
That may be an oversight, an error of judgement, or a quiet word from his former boss. Not for us to know. But the BBC needs to be impartial. If Gompertz won’t report the anti-Tate demos, someone else should cover the story. Where’s Razia Iqbal when we really need her?