March 20, 2019

Following Pushback, Sackler Trust and London's National Portrait Gallery Drop $1.3 Million Grant

LONDON, ENGLAND—London’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG) has decided not to accept a $1.3 million grant from the Sackler Trust, one of the charitable organizations founded by the Sackler family, which owns the pharmaceutical company that manufactures OxyContin. The much-anticipated announcement comes at a time when arts institutions across the globe are facing mounting pressure to reject funding from controversial donors.

The Sackler Trust pledged to award the gift to the museum in June 2016 to support its “Inspiring People” project, a $47 million initiative to revamp the gallery by constructing a new entrance for its north facade; reopening its East Wing, which is part of its original 1896 building; creating a learning center; and reinstalling its permanent collection. The gallery didn’t receive the money because it hadn’t begun work on the project, and because its ethics committee was deliberating on the ramifications of accepting the funding.

Last month, photographer and activist Nan Goldin threatened to boycott the institution if it took the grant. She also told The Observer that she would refuse a major retrospective of her work that the gallery was in the early stages of planning. Goldin became an active campaigner against the members of the Sackler family tied to Purdue Pharma after she had her own struggles with addiction, which she wrote about in the January 2018 issue of Artforum.

Since then, she has organized protests along with her P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) group at institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Harvard Art Museums in Massachusetts, and the Freer-Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC, which have all accepted large donations from the family. Goldin wants them to reject future funding offers from the Sacklers and to remove the family’s name from the walls of their buildings. She also aims to hold the family accountable by demanding that they use their fortune to combat the opioid epidemic.

A statement released by the NPG this morning said: “The Sackler Trust and the National Portrait Gallery have jointly agreed not to proceed at this time with a £1,000,000 gift from the Sackler Trust.” A spokesperson for the Sackler Trust also issued the following statement:

“The Sackler Trust has supported institutions playing crucial roles in health, education, science and the arts for almost half a century and we were pleased to have the opportunity to offer a new gift to support the National Portrait Gallery. The giving philosophy of the family has always been to actively support institutions while never getting in the way of their mission. 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 allegations against family members are vigorously denied, but to avoid being a distraction for the NPG, we have decided not to proceed at this time with the donation. We continue to believe strongly in the gallery and the wonderful work it does.”

In response, NPG chair David Ross said: “As Chair of the National Portrait Gallery, I acknowledge the generosity of the Sackler Family and their support of the Arts over the years. We understand and support their decision not to proceed at this time with the donation to the Gallery.”

After hearing about the decision, Goldin told the New York Times, “I’m thrilled about the news, and I congratulate them on their courage.”

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