After widespread criticism, the Tate has dropped the bus and train company Stagecoach South East as a sponsor of the Turner Prize. The company’s founder, Brian Souter, has a history of campaigning against gay rights.
“Turner Contemporary and Tate’s highest priority is to show and celebrate artists and their work. The Turner Prize celebrates the creative freedoms of the visual arts community and our wider society,” said the Turner Contemporary and Tate in a joint statement. “By mutual agreement, we will not proceed with Stagecoach South East’s sponsorship of this year’s prize.”
“We are absolutely committed to diversity in our company, however we do not want anything to distract from celebrating the Turner Prize artists and their work,” read a statement from Stagecoach South East, one of 18 smaller companies within Souter’s Stagecoach Group.
Stagecoach’s support of the prize was announced this week along with the list of 2019 nominees, which includes Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Tai Shani, and Oscar Murillo. The winner, to be announced on December 3, will receive a £25,000 prize ($33,000), with £5,000 ($6,500) going to each of the three runners up.
Although Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson declined to answer questions about Stagecoach’s sponsorship at the press conference announcing the Turner Prize shortlist, the museum has now reversed course following negative media coverage.
“Surely there must be other less tainted potential sponsors?,” gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, told the Telegraph. “The arts is an LGBT-friendly profession and should not be colluding with companies whose leaders support homophobic discrimination.”
The announcement about the artists was largely overshadowed by concerns about Stagecoach. Souter has said that gay marriage would turn the UK into “a Babylonian-Greek society where sex is primarily a recreational activity,” according to the Guardian. In 2000, he made a £1 million ($1.3 million) donation toward efforts to maintain Section 28, a Scottish law that forbade “promoting” sexuality. (It was repealed later that year.)
Last year’s Turner Prize winner, Charlotte Prodger, was honored for a video piece about her experience coming out as queer in her rural Scottish hometown.
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