Author Archives: Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group

Funders and our climate science gallery

By Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group

I wanted to respond to a story in the Guardian in which a campaign group that opposes sponsorship by oil companies highlights the Science Museum’s relationship with Shell, with whom the museum has a long-standing partnership.

Shell was a major funder of Atmosphere, our climate science gallery which provides our visitors with accurate, up-to-date information on what is known, what is uncertain, and what is not known about this important subject. The gallery has been hugely popular since it opened four years ago and has now been visited by more than 3 million people.

As with all of our exhibitions and curatorial programmes, the editorial vision and control sits with our curatorial team.

The campaigners say emails between Shell and our fundraising team, which we shared in response to a Freedom of Information request, suggest that Shell was seeking to influence the direction of Atmosphere and the associated curatorial programme. Having spoken to our curatorial team, I can confirm that not a single change to the curatorial programme resulted from these email exchanges.

I know some people will have a broader disagreement with our decision to form partnerships with corporations such as Shell. I respect their right to hold that opinion but I fundamentally disagree. And it’s not just because external funding is vital in enabling us to remain free to millions of visitors each year and in allowing us to curate ground-breaking temporary exhibitions at a time when Government funding is declining. More importantly it’s because 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 the case of our Atmosphere gallery, the Science Museum invited Shell’s Group Climate Change Advisor David Hone to sit on an advisory panel alongside people such as Tony Juniper, the former Executive Director of Friends of the Earth. We knew that decision wouldn’t please everyone, but we wanted to hear all sides of the debate and we’re proud of Atmosphere and the role the gallery and accompanying programme have played in raising awareness of climate change among visitors to the Science Museum.

Farnborough International Airshow booking at the Science Museum

By Ian Blatchford, Director, Science Museum.

I have recently received feedback from a campaign group about the welcome reception for this year’s Farnborough International Airshow taking place at the Science Museum. Given the strong views some people have about this booking, I wanted to provide some context about the museum’s commercial activities.

As Director, I have a responsibility to balance financial sustainability with achieving our goal to be the leading international museum championing the understanding, enjoyment and prestige of science. The financial challenge faced by our museums has grown in recent years when the tough economic climate has seen our Government funding reduced by more than 30 per cent in real terms since 2010.

Our response to this fiscal challenge has involved a combination of reducing our running costs and increasing the income we generate. Alongside philanthropic support from individuals and companies we continue to expand the range and scope of our commercial activities, including offering spaces for hire for corporate events outside the hours when the museum is open to the public.

Among the many corporate events taking place at the museum this year is the welcome reception for Farnborough International Airshow. The show is a key event for the UK aerospace industry, a subject area in which the Science Museum holds major collections and an industry which is a prominent investor in science and engineering. We treated this event as we would a booking from any other legitimate organisation.

The revenue generated by bookings such as this plays an important role in the funding mix that enables us to remain free to millions of visitors, run the biggest educational programme of its kind, and allows us to curate world-class exhibitions.

I respect people’s right to hold different views but I believe we are making the right decisions to secure the long-term future of the museum for the public good.