Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery opened in London’s (UK) Science Museum on Oct. 12, 2016 and it seems there are a couple of controversies. An Oct. 17, 2016 article by Chris Garrard outlines the issues (Note: Links have been removed),
What do you wonder?” That is the question the Science Museum has been asking for many months now, in posters, celebrity videos and in online images. It’s been part of the museum’s strategy to ramp up excitement around its new “Wonderlab” gallery, a space full of interactive science exhibits designed to inspire children. But what many have been wondering is how Statoil, a major oil and gas company with plans to drill up to seven new wells in the Arctic [emphasis mine], was allowed to become the gallery’s title sponsor? Welcome to Wonderlab – the Science Museum’s latest ethical contradiction.
In Australia, Statoil is still considering plans to drill a series of ultra deepwater wells in the Great Australian Bight – an internationally recognised whale sanctuary – despite the decision this week of its strategic partner, BP, to pull out. …
The company’s sponsorship of Wonderlab may look like a generous gesture from outside but in reality, Statoil is buying a social legitimacy it does not deserve – and it is particularly sinister to purchase that legitimacy at the expense of young people who will inherit a world with an unstable climate. This is an attempt to associate the future of science and technology with fossil fuels at a time when society and policy makers have finally accepted that that it is not compatible with a sustainable future and a stable climate. As the impacts of climate change intensify and the world shifts away from fossil fuels, the Science Museum will look ever more out of touch with the words “the Statoil gallery” emblazoned upon its walls.
The Science Museum has previously had sponsorship deals with a range of unethical sponsors, from arms companies such as Airbus, to other fossil fuel companies such as BP and Shell. When Shell’s influence over the Science Museum’s climate science gallery was unearthed last year following Freedom of Information requests, the museum’s director, Ian Blatchford, sought to defend the museum’s engagement with fossil fuel funders. He wrote “When it comes to the major challenges facing our society, from climate change to inspiring the next generation of engineers, we need to be engaging with all the key players including governments, industry and the public, not hiding away in a comfortable ivory tower.”
In reality, Blatchford is the one in the ivory tower – and not just because of the museum’s ties to Statoil. Wonderlab replaces the museum’s Launchpad gallery, a hub of interactive science exhibits designed to engage and inspire children. But unlike its predecessor, Wonderlab comes with an entry charge. Earlier this year, the science communication academic Dr Emily Dawson noted that “charging for the museum’s most popular children’s gallery sends a clear message that science is for some families, but not for all”. Thus Wonderlab represents a science communication mess as well as an ethical one.
While the museum’s decision to offer free school visits will allow some children from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to experience Wonderlab, Dawson argues that “it is not enough to use school visits as a panacea for exclusive practice”. Research recently undertaken by the Wellcome Trust showed that likelihood of visiting a science museum or centre is related to social class. Entry charges are not the only obstacle in the way of public access to science, but perhaps the most symbolic for a major cultural institution – particularly where the primary audience is children.
Garrard does note that museums have challenges, especially when they are dealing with funding cuts as they are at the Science Museum.
The sponsorship issue may sound familiar to Canadians as we had our own controversy in 2012 with Imperial Oil and its sponsorship of the Canada Science and Technology Museum’s show currently named, ‘Let’s Talk Energy‘ still sponsored by Imperial Oil. Here’s more from my June 13, 2012 posting,
They’ve been going hot and heavy at Canada’s national museums in Ottawa this last few months. First, there was a brouhaha over corporate patronage and energy in January 2012 and, again, in April 2012 and now, it’s all about sex. While I’m dying to get started on the sex, this piece is going to follow the chronology.
The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) website has a Jan. 23, 2012 posting which notes the active role Imperial Oil played in a November 2011 energy exhibit (part of a multi-year, interactive national initiative, Let’s Talk Energy) at the Canada Science and Technology Museum (from the CBC Jan. 23, 2012 posting),
Imperial Oil, a sponsor of the Museum of Science and Technology’s exhibition “Energy: Power to Choose,” was actively involved in the message presented to the public, according to emails obtained by CBC News.
The Ottawa museum unveiled the exhibition last year despite criticism from environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which questioned why it was partly funded by the Imperial Oil Foundation, which contributed $600,000 over six years.
Apparently, CBC reporters got their hands on some emails where the Imperial Oil Foundation president, Susan Swan, made a number of suggestions,
In an Oct. 3  interview on CBC Ottawa’s All in a Day, host Alan Neal asked exhibit curator Anna Adamek whose idea it was to include in the exhibit a reference that says oilsands account for one-tenth of one percent of global emissions.
“This fact comes from research reports that are available at the museum, that were commissioned by the museum,” Adamek told Neal.
But earlier emails from Imperial Oil Foundation president Susan Swan obtained by Radio-Canada through an Access to Information request show she had recommended that information be included back in May [2011?].
Swan, who also served as chair of the advisory committee to the project, also asked that information be included that the oilsands are expected to add $1.7 trillion to the Canadian economy over the next 25 years.
Not all of Swan’s requests made it into the final exhibit: in one point, she asked that an illustration for Polar Oil and Gas Reserves be changed from red to blue, arguing red “has a negative connotation” bringing to mind “blood oil.” The change was not made.
Personally, I love Swan’s semiotic analysis of the colour ‘red’. I wonder how many graphic designers have been driven mad by someone who sat through a lecture or part of a television programme on colour and/or semiotics and is now an expert.
If you’re curious, you can see the emails from the Imperial Oil Foundation in the CBC Jan. 23, 2012 posting.
A few months later, Barrick Gold (a mining corporation) donated $1M to have a room at the Canadian Museum of Nature renamed, from the April 24, 2012 posting on the CBC website,
Environmental groups are upset over a decision to rename a room at the Canadian Museum of Nature after corporate mining giant Barrick Gold.
Barrick Gold Corp., based out of Toronto, purchased the room’s naming rights for about $1 million. The new “Barrick Salon” is the museum’s premier rental space featuring a circular room with glass windows from floor to ceiling.
The decision had activists protest at the museum Tuesday, a few hours before the official naming reception that includes Barrick Gold executives.
“It’s definitely not a partnership, it’s a sponsorship,” said Elizabeth McCrea, the museum’s director of communications. “We’re always looking at increasing self-generated revenue and this is one way that we’re doing it.” [emphasis mine]
Monarchs and wealthy people have been funding and attempting to influence cultural institutions for millenia. These days, we get to include corporations on that list but it’s nothing new. People or institutions with power and money always want history or facts * presented in ways that further or flatter their interests (“history is written by the victors”). They aren’t always successful but they will keep trying.
It’s hard to be high-minded when you need money but it doesn’t mean you should give up on the effort.