Anti-arms trade campaigners to call action in Trafalgar Square tomorrow
Anti Arms campaigners have called a protest for Saturday 31 March, in Trafalgar Square. The campaigners are sending a message that will urge the National Gallery to end its links with the arms trade. The National Gallery, one of the UK’s most iconic public institutions, receives funding from arms giant Finmeccanica and in return allows its famous galleries to be used to host parties for arms dealers.
Artists and artlovers will brighten the plaza in front of the Gallery with an unfolding spectacle which will urge the Gallery to stop supporting the arms trade, while passersby will be invited to create their own artworks and to send a message to the Gallery to end its connection with Finmeccanica describes themselves as the UK’s branch of the Italian-based Finmeccanica Group, which operates globally in the aerospace, defence and security markets. As well as being one of the world’s leading suppliers of helicopters, aircraft, aeronautics and defence systems, Finmeccanica is also a European leader in Space systems, security and resilience, transportation and power generation solutions.
Finmeccanica pays the National Gallery a mere £30,000 a year to use its rooms for “corporate entertaining” – that is, for impressing its clients and lobbying decision-makers. In September 2011, the National Gallery hosted an evening reception to celebrate the first day of business at London Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi), the world’s largest arms fair. Arms company executives, including former Labour Defence Minister Geoff Hoon, were greeted with boos and catcalls and forced to step over “dead” protesters, representing victims of the arms trade. Earlier, the gallery had ejected anti-arms campaigners who had staged a sit-in at the gallery.
The next major arms show to be staged in the UK is the Farnborough Airshow in July 2012, which will again host authoritarian regimes and weapons manufacturers from around the world. In the past, the National Gallery has used the occasion to host a reception for Finmeccanica.
The current Finmeccanica sponsorship of the Gallery runs until October 2013. Campaigners are calling on the National Gallery: to end its sponsorship arrangements with arms companies.
In addition to the demonstration, CAAT is also urging art lovers to write to the Director of the National Gallery, Nicholas Penny, to express their opposition to the sponsorship.
Sarah Waldron, CAAT Campaigner, says: “We were shocked to discover the support the National Gallery is giving to the arms trade. The Gallery is not just taking unethical money, it is actually hiring out its facilities to help arms companies do business. The Gallery says that its beautiful paintings enrich life, but in making this deal it is actively assisting those who profit from conflict and destruction.”
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade. The arms business has a devastating impact on human rights and society and damages economic development. Large-scale military procurement and arms exports only reinforce a militaristic approach to international problems. Around 75% of CAAT’s income is raised from individual supporters.
The Disarm the Gallery campaign is organised by the Stop The Arms Fair coalition and Campaign Against Arms Trade, and supported by a wide group of individuals and organisations, including from the artistic community.
The National Gallery has an ‘ethical fundraising policy’ but this does not outline what might be considered ethical or unethical funding. Rather, it says that sponsorship will not be accepted if it would harm the gallery and if that harm was “disproportionate to the benefit derived”. Its definition of harm includes “a level of criticism from the press, public or other relevant community of professionals” and damage to the Gallery’s reputation.
Finmeccanica is the world’s eighth largest arms company. Its arms production amounted to US$14.4 billion in 2010, 58% of total company sales. Finmeccanica’s products include military helicopters, fighter aircraft, drones, missiles, radar and targetting systems, missiles, naval guns, artillery and armoured combat vehicles. Although based in Italy, with over 30% owned by the Italian government, there is substantial production in the UK and US. Finmeccanica is the subject of a long running corruption allegation in Italy.
Finmeccanica UK owns what used to be Westland Helicopters, now part of the AgustaWestland brand. It has used the revolving door to embed itself in the UK political establishment, including recruiting former Labour Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon who took up the post of Senior Vice President of International Business in May 2011. During his time as Defence Secretary he had awarded a billion pound order to AgustaWestland without competition