Artists Are Pulling Out of the Great Exhibition of the North Over a Weapons Dealer’s Sponsorship

BAE, a sponsor of the Great Exhibition of the North
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BAE, a sponsor of the Great Exhibition of the North
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BAE promotional image.

The Great Exhibition of the North is getting slammed by artists.

The Great Exhibition of the North is one of the most anticipated events in North England.  The two-month exhibition traverses art, culture, and design.  Billed as the biggest event in the country, the Exhibition aims to attract three million people in Newcastle-Gateshead this summer.

Unfortunately, there is trouble brewing ahead.  Arms manufacturer BAE Systems is one of the three biggest sponsors of the event, and that’s ruffling some feathers.  The massive arms and military equipment company has been accused of “profiteering from the deaths of innocent children.”

It also happens to be one of the largest employers in the region.  And accordingly, a big supporter of an event on its home turf.

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Gary Verity, Chair of the Great Exhibition of the North, spoke about the partnership last month.  He said he was “thrilled” about the agreement and described BAE Systems as a “perfect fit” for the Exhibition.  BAE Systems further explained that it has more than 18,000 employees based in the region.  The company also said it was “very proud” to be part of the Exhibition.

BAE Systems is one of three Premier Partners for the exhibition, together with Virgin Trains East Coast and management consultancy Accenture.

Not everyone is happy with the partnership, however.  A few musicians and other artists have already pulled out of playing at the event. That includes the Leeds-based Commoners Choir and musician Nadine Shah.

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Ceramic artist Emily Hesse is also jumping ship.  “There is no way I would have been involved had I known about the sponsorship. I imagine many artists are struggling with this,” Hesse told The Art Newspaper.

More are certain to follow.

That has started a snowball effect.  Now, there’s a petition launched to refuse BAE Systems’ sponsorship of the Great Exhibition of the North.

The petition calls on Sarah Stewart, CEO of the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, to refuse BAE systems sponsorship.  “British arms companies including BAE have made more than £6bn from sales to Saudi Arabia during the ongoing war in Yemen,” the petition reads.  “The international humanitarian law prohibits attacks against civilians, yet the British armed Saudi-led coalition has bombed schools, markets, hospitals, and health centers.”

“The conflict has killed or injured more than 5,000 children, while survivors face malnutrition and disease with the collapse of infrastructure. Unicef warns that ‘nearly every child in Yemen’ is in need of humanitarian assistance.  The Great Exhibition of the North claims to offer ‘family-friendly fun’.

“This is totally at odds with its association with BAE Systems.”


More as this develops.