March 24, 2019; Slate and The Guardian
On Friday, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum became the third museum—after the Tate Modern, which made its announcement on Thursday, and the National Portrait Gallery—and the first in the United States to say it would not accept additional contributions from the Sackler Family.
The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma LC, the manufacturer of OxyContin. Eight family members are currently being sued for their complicity in this country’s opioid addiction crisis by actively promoting what they allegedly knew to be excessive prescribing of the powerful painkiller.
Also, over this past weekend, more than 600 cities, counties, and Native American tribes filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Sacklers of helping to fuel the opioid crisis. The suit alleges that the Sackler family and its companies “intentionally misled doctors and patients” through “financial relationships with academic physicians, professional societies, hospitals, trade associations for state medical boards and seemingly neutral third-party foundations.”
All of this has resulted in the Sackler Trust suspending all new giving. Sackler Trust chairwoman Dame Theresa Sackler issued a statement on behalf of the Trust’s Trustees that reads:
I am deeply saddened by the addiction crisis in America and support the actions Purdue Pharma is taking to help tackle the situation, whilst still rejecting the false allegations made against the company and several members of the Sackler family.
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The current press attention that these legal cases in the United States is generating has created immense pressure on the scientific, medical, educational and arts institutions here in the UK, large and small, that I am so proud to support. This attention is distracting them from the important work that they do.
The trustees of the Sackler Trust have taken the difficult decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving, while still honouring existing commitments. I remain fully committed to all the causes the Sackler Trust supports, but at this moment it is the better course for the trust to halt all new giving until we can be confident that it will not be a distraction for institutions that are applying for grants.
Activist and photographer Nan Goldin would not let the issue rest, however, saying, “I would appreciate the news if I heard that their money was going to pay reparations for the people whose lives they’ve ruined and the communities they’ve destroyed.”
Amen to that.
She calls the Sackler Trust’s suspension of grantmaking a face-saving measure in the wake of public censure that comes when renowned cultural institutions that need their money turn their grants down. With eight family members fighting multiple suits, who needs the constant thrum of bad press? Goldin adds, “There’s 300,000 people dead in this country. Their money should go to in some way pay for all the damage they’ve done.”
The Trust still has some outstanding pledges, of course, and we expect these will be monitored by activists for acceptance or rejection by the nonprofits to which they have been promised. This refusal by arts institutions to help launder bad reputations built through exploitive business is an important step for the sector. It will be important to watch where it goes.—Ruth McCambridge