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BAE Backs Out Of GEOTN

BAE Systems has withdrawn its sponsorship of this summer’s Great Exhibition of the North.

The defence company issued a statement saying: “While BAE Systems remains supportive of the aims of the Great Exhibition we have decided to redirect our support to other initiatives better suited to both our skills and innovation objectives and in support of the industrial strategy of the North of England”.

The company’s decision follows protests by several acts, including singer-songwriter Nadine Shah, who withdrew from the event after discovering BAE Systems was one of its key sponsors as previously reported.  An online protest petition entitled ‘Art not Arms’, had been launched by a “coalition of artists and cultural workers”, calling for the Great Exhibition of the North to end its “unethical partnership with weapons maker BAE Systems”.

The Great Exhibition organisers had previously offered a somewhat mealy-mouthed defence of the sponsorship but let us not forget that the 11-week arts festival is being staged with £5m from the Government’s Northern Powerhouse fund. Government Minister Jake Berry, who is responsible for the Northern Powerhouse took to Twitter to defend BAE, referring to those who had protested as “subsidy-addicted artists” and “snowflakes”. What a remarkable misreading of the public mood.

Art and corporate sponsorship are arguably uneasy bedfellows at the best of times and with War Child on record criticising BAE for its involvement selling arms to Saudi Arabia in the ongoing war in Yemen, this was never going to be a good look for the Great Exhibition. It feels like the only resolution that will enable the event to move on and not be overshadowed by the debate.

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While BAE Systems remains supportive of the aims of the Great Exhibition we have decided to redirect our support to other initiatives better suited to both our skills and innovation objectives and in support of the industrial strategy of the North of England.

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