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The National Portrait Gallery Refuses a Donation from the Sacklers

— March 28, 2019

The National Portrait Gallery recently rejected a large donation from the family behind Purdue Pharma.

Britain’s National Portrait Gallery recently declined a donation from the charitable arm of the Sackler family, The Sackler Trust, which has long supported scientific research, art, and charities.  The Trust offered $1.8 million in 2016 to help with the gallery’s $65 million redevelopment.  But, with allegations that the family behind Purdue Pharma knowingly helped to fuel the U.S.’s crippling opioid epidemic, the institution felt it could no longer accept funding from the Trust.

The Sacklers are being sued by the state of Massachusetts for contributing to the crisis.  Statistics show that more than two million Americans are addicted to opioids including Purdue’s OxyContin.  Documents continue to be revealed in court which suggest the Sacklers intended to line their pockets with profits from the addictive drug.

“It has become evident that recent reporting of allegations made against Sackler family members may cause this new donation to deflect the National Portrait Gallery from its important work,” the Sackler family said.  The family, whose combined net worth is $18.3 billion, vigorously denies responsibility.  Its overseas arm, Mundipharma, funds opioid research at the University of New South Wales.

The National Portrait Gallery Refuses a Donation from the Sacklers
Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Renowned American artist and photographer Nan Goldin led the “Sackler Pain” protest movement, targeting museums that have taken the company’s money for years.  The group has been pushing for international institutions to disassociate from the family’s name and celebrated the gallery’s decision.

“The tide is turning.  Bravo National portrait gallery, the first museum to refuse the Sackler’s money,” the protestors responded to the decision.

Goldin reportedly told the National Portrait Gallery she would refuse to let her work be displayed if it accepted the Sacklers’ donation.  Her collective has also targeted the Sacklers’ long-standing relationships with the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim.

In February, the demonstrators visited the institutions that had long-standing relationships with the family once known primarily for its philanthropic efforts and dropped thousands of fake prescriptions into the atrium of the Guggenheim.  Some of the demonstrators revealed banners with one reading, “Take down their name,” while others laid on the floor and played dead.  The abrupt intrusion and display, understandably,  caught museum visitors off guard.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera recently began legal action against Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers, following Massachusetts’ lead.  He said, “For too long institutions were willing to look the other way and accept donations from the Sackler family.  I’m pleased some are now taking a stand.  This is blood money.  The millions of people who were turned into addicts paid for it with their health and their lives.  It should not be used to provide the trappings of legitimacy to a family who created an epidemic to line their pockets.”

This month, the University of Washington also removed the Sackler name from its website and has plans to cancel a Sackler-funded postdoctoral program.  The State of Washington has filed suit against Purdue Pharma.

“We have to bring down the Sackler family.  They should be in jail next to [convicted Mexican drug dealer] El Chapo,” Goldin said.


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