Hannah Fry – Image: John Gaffen / Alamy Stock Photo
Two esteemed scientists who had until recently sat on the board of the Science Museum Group have resigned from their respective roles in quick succession. Dr Jo Foster the Director of the UK-wide charity, the Institute for Research in Schools and the television presenter, Dr Hannah Fry, both took the same decision within days of one another. According to both of the scientists involved, they decided to step away from their posts on the museum group’s board following a disagreement over sponsorship.
Writing in the British press, Dr Fry said that the issue had come to a head because of the museum’s ongoing involvement with an energy company known as Adani Green Energy. Fry, who is well-known in the UK for science programmes on the BBC on both television and radio, said that, in her view, the Science Museum remains of vital importance as a national institution. “[It is]… a place I have loved since a child,” she said. “Therefore, it is with great sadness that I have taken the decision to resign from my position as a trustee of its board.”
Fry’s statement read that she could no longer support the recent agreement that the board had come to with Adani. “I think that the museum must with the reasonable concerns [people have about]… their stance on fossil fuel sponsorship more proactively,” she said. Fry went on to state that she thought the museum would only be able to retain its pivotal role as a leader in the wider conversation about the climate crisis if it had a less close relationship with energy firms like Adani.
The chair of the Science Museum Group’s board of trustees, Dame Mary Archer, confirmed the news that both Fry and Foster had left their positions in a public statement made at the end of October. Her statement came just days after a protest had been staged in the Science Museum’s main site in Kensington, West London. Large numbers of a group known as the UK Student Climate Network had entered the museum and staged a candlelight vigil. Chief among the reasons for doing so, according to the activists involved, was the Science Museum’s sponsorship deals with fossil fuel companies including its relationship with Adani.
Student climate activists and scientists stage an occupation of the Science Museum, London over its acceptance of sponsorship by the fossil fuels industry.
At the time of the deal in question, which was to fund a new gallery, Dame Archer had said that the museum was ‘hugely grateful’ to Adani for its ‘significant financial support’. The gallery, which is due to open in 2023 is concerned with changes in energy production. The Science Museum Group issued a statement following the deal with Adani to say that the gallery sought to show how the planet can undergo a fast energy transition to help curb the effects of climate change.
A spokesperson for the London branch of the Student Climate Network said that the Science Museum’s senior managers have shut down attempts to hold a conversation with young activists and scientists. “Meanwhile, the board of trustees are welcoming with open arms some of the worst perpetrators of the climate crisis,” the group’s statement continued.
Defending the Science Museum Group, Dame Archer wrote of the twin resignations that it would be ‘counterproductive’ to dismiss the entire energy sector in terms of the museum’s sponsorship decisions. She said that engagement with and decisions about arrangements with companies are made individually. However, she also admitted that there was a great deal at stake for the museum. Therefore, she maintained that the board of trustees would continue to hold a ‘robust internal discussion’ about energy companies’ involvement and, specifically, about ‘where to draw the line’ with them. “We need to work harder to engage all interested parties,” she wrote. Dame Archer conceded would include those who might disagree with the museum’s position, on the financial support of what many see as climate polluters.
Meanwhile, Fry said that she considered herself to be a friend of the museum and that she will continue to support it. However, she also went on to say that, sometimes, being a good friend is about speaking honestly even if that was, at times, uncomfortable.
Interested in how museums can respond to the climate crisis? Join us for the Green Museums Summit in March 2022.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.