The Art of Syncrude

  • Author / Creator
    Boudreau, Wyatt
  • Combating the current and incoming climate catastrophe demands a reckoning with the forces that continue to prevent meaningful changes to the fossil fuel paradigm. Actors benefitting from the exploitation of fossil fuels have been consistent in their strategic efforts to actively affect policy regarding the exploitation and use of fossil fuels, through managing the public as a lever with which to assert pressure upon the gatekeepers of increased extraction. Similarly, in the geographical contexts where exploitation takes place, the apparent political consensus around energy has been managed. Pratt (1976) demonstrates exhaustively that the fossil fuel industry, at least in the 1960-1976 period, with Syncrude at the helm, drove the energy policies coming out of the Government of Alberta during this time. Urquhart (2018) furthers this line of inquiry demonstrating how, through the cooperation of the government of Alberta, three of the largest universities in Alberta, and the tar sands industry, the development and exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta is promoted. Additionally, Urquhart’s “bitumen triangle” responds to acute critiques and incidents harmful to the continued expansion and development of the sands with aesthetically different but substantially similar messages—that the sands are a necessity to our way of life, however defined. This thesis dives into how exactly the industry branch of Urquhart’s “bitumen triangle” goes about this messaging campaign. Inspired by the work of Mel Evans (2015), and her theorization of “artwashing,” this thesis examines the subtle impact of artistic sponsorship by sands boosters. It is as part of their broader community investment strategy to harness public opinion—especially those opinions of certain key groups— through convincing them that exploiting the sands is necessary. I use Syncrude’s artistic sponsorship at one of Edmonton’s cultural institutions, the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA), as a central case study to test these and other hypotheses. I have found that although Syncrude’s sponsorship at the AGA has been relatively minor in financial contribution, the size and consistency of their logos throughout the AGA is effective in making them seem more essential then their financial contribution suggests. When zooming out however, beyond Edmonton and the AGA, I have found that Syncrude’s sponsorship portfolio increases dramatically the closer one looks to their sites of extraction.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
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