Activists have occupied part of the British Museum, as part of a day of demonstrations against sponsorship of Britain’s cultural institutions by BP.

Hollywood actor Ezra Miller joined members of 15 different groups in the London museum’s Great Court on Sunday, to sing songs and make statements calling for the current deal with the oil firm not to be renewed.

BP has been criticised over its sponsorship of many of Britain’s most prominent cultural establishments, including the British Museum and Tate Modern, where a demonstration was also held earlier on Sunday.

“They get to purchase a social licence to operate, which is incredibly important for a company like BP,” said Danny Chivers of the protest group BP or not BP.

“It is important to understand that the money [BP gives] is not a gift, it is not philanthropy. It is part of their marketing budget and strategy. We have challenged them at their AGM and they have admitted it. They said they expect a return [on it].”

Mel Evans, a member of the art collective Liberate Tate, agreed, adding that BP wanted to “artwash its image”. She pointed out that her group had established that BP contributed an average of £224,000 per year to the Tate Modern, a small percentage of its total income. “It is barely any money … It is so small, so it is a small decision.”

Dozens of black-clad activists entered the court at around 3pm and arranged themselves to spell out the word “no”. They held black umbrellas aloft and walked around the hall singing, before taking their demonstration out on to the museum’s steps.

They said they chose the British Museum because that was where, in 2011, it was announced that the museum, along with the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate and the Royal Opera House, had all signed a deal with the oil firm for £10m in sponsorship over five years.

Earlier in the day, Liberate Tate held a performance at the Tate Modern. Evans said that, while the groups were opposed to BP’s involvement with many galleries and museums across the country, they were focusing on the “big four” because they believed their boards would currently be in the process of deciding whether or not they renew the deals they signed in 2010.

The activists, who banded together to form the Art Not Oil Coalition, said they intended to carry out further actions in the near future, but declined to give any further details on Sunday.

Spokesmen for both the British Museum and BP did not respond to requests for comment.

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