July 23, 2018

Anti-Opioid Group P.A.I.N. Stages Protest at Harvard Art Museums

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—On Friday afternoon, Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.), an activist group led by artist Nan Goldin, staged a die-in protest at the Harvard Art Museums, Andrew Russeth reports for Artnews. The protest took place in the atrium of the Harvard Art Museums, which includes the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum. A selection of Goldin’s photographs from the museums’ Schneider/Erdman Printer’s Proof Collection are currently on view in the exhibition “Analog Culture.”

P.A.I.N. has organized demonstrations at cultural institutions connected to the Sackler family of Purdue Pharma, the drugmaker behind the prescription opioid OxyContin. Previous P.A.I.N. actions have protested the Sackler Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C.

As part of Friday’s action, Goldin, who wrote about her addiction to prescription opioids in the January 2018 issue of Artforum, delivered a speech condemning the museum for accepting donations from the Sackler family. Protesters littered the atrium with empty prescription bottles, chanting “People over profits” and “Shame on Sackler,” and held banners declaring “MEDICAL STUDENTS AGAINST THE SACKLERS” and “HARM REDUCITION NOW/TREATMENT NOW.”

P.A.I.N.’s Megan Kapler told Artnews that around seventy people participated in the protest, including medical students from Harvard, New York, and Boston universities. “The medical community is here saying they’re taking a stand against the Sackler and Purdue Pharma influence,” Kapler said. Other participants came from the Center for Popular Democracy, the Opioid Network, and ACT UP Boston.

Speaking to the Harvard Crimson’s Isabelle Agee-Jacobson and Caroline S. Engelmayer, fourth-year medical school student Darshali Vyas said, “This is a crisis, this is impacting our patients, they’re dying, and we want to help them. A lot of deaths are very preventable, which I think I and a lot of my classmates have witnessed, and we feel that there is this need for urgent action.” The Crimson notes that Harvard Art Museums’ spokesperson Darron J. Manoogian declined to comment on the protest.

Descendants of Arthur M. Sackler have distanced themselves from Purdue Pharma. Shortly after his death in 1987, nine years before OxyContin was introduced, Arthur M. Sackler's shares of the company were sold to brothers Raymond and Mortimer Sackler. Critics have countered that Arthur developed the marketing strategy behind Valium and other drugs that have contributed to the opioid crisis.

[Correction, July 27, 2018: Arthur M. Sackler died nine years before OxyContin was introduced to the market, not eight, as this article originally stated. None of the charitable donations made by Arthur M. Sackler prior to his death or made by his widow, Jillian Sackler, in his memory were funded from the sale of OxyContin.]

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