In December, the British Museum publicly announced a new £50 million 10-year sponsorship deal with BP, which will include building an ‘Energy Centre’ to help the estate phase out its own fossil fuel use.

This announcement came just a couple of months after BP took up the offer of new offshore gas exploration licences from the State of Israel – three weeks after the genocide in Gaza began. The gas will come from fields within current Palestinian territory.

BP is one of the main providers of oil to Israel, used to power their military incursion and occupation of Palestine.

BP or not BP? have campaigned for years for the British Museum to ‘Drop BP’, and earlier last year, with no renewal of exhibition sponsorship, it looked like at long last the museum had caught up with most other major cultural institutions and put ethics before finance (although BP’s contribution to the museum’s budget had always been less than half a per cent).

Angry that once again BP will get all the benefits of a positive public image in spite of its complicity in climate breakdown and even genocide, groups have begun to organise and co-ordinate and resume protest at the museum.

On Saturday, BP or not BP? planned a gentle drawn-out action which would engage visitors – the creation of a mosaic in the Great Court. It would be a copy of the face of Phobos – the Greek god of Fear and Terror – which was originally found in Halicarnassus (now Bodrum) in Turkey, and is now on the wall of the museum’s West staircase.

Meanwhile Parents For Palestine and Energy Embargo For Palestine held a family-friendly gathering in the museum courtyard, with a children’s art area, a parachute game, some cultural teaching, and dancing the traditional Dabke.

In the past, museum security have generally tolerated and even facilitated protest at the institution, (including an overnight occupation, and a three-day mass protest with a Trojan horse!) but along with the new BP contract it appears a new unfriendly regime is in place.

As soon as a giant ‘Drop BP’ banner was unfurled in the courtyard and some chanting and singing began, the public were refused admission and the museum was gradually emptied. Police were summoned, who then started videoing the family protest, including children, and later two photo-journalists were even escorted off the premises.

The courtyard action was planned to include a picnic for a couple of hours over lunchtime, and so at around 2pm they began to pack up and leave, but with the mosaic still under peaceful construction, the only museum visitors allowed in were either paid-up members, or those who held £25 tickets for the current Roman Legion exhibition.

Normally on a Saturday afternoon the museum would be buzzing, but with so few visitors, the effect was that the mosaic was far more visible and so many more engaged with activists who handed out leaflets and chatted with them. Some visitors even joined in with the mosaic. Most were bemused by the museum’s over-reaction to a peaceful protest, and several said they would be initiating complaints.

As the museum closed at 5, police arrived again, including an evidence gathering team who filmed the mosaic artists and warned of escalation if they did not pack up and leave.

Eventually the artwork was carefully carried out and the museum was left physically undamaged but reputationally injured.

A new director, Nicholas Cullinan, will take over in the summer. As the then-Director of the National Portrait Gallery last year, he was quoted with reference to the end of decades of BP sponsorship there, that some companies cross an ethical ‘red line’ when it comes to cultural sponsorship. Activists are wondering which side of genocide Cullinan’s red line lies.