May 17, 2019

The Met Will No Longer Accept Donations from Sackler Family

NEW YORK—As outrage over the opioid crisis mounts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York announced today that it has joined the list of institutions that will no longer accept donations from members of the Sackler family with close ties to the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer and distributer of OxyContin. The American Museum of Natural History also announced today that it will stop taking Sackler funding.

The institutions’ decision to distance themselves from the Sacklers follows similar announcements made by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and Britain’s Tate earlier this year. In 2018, the South London Gallery became one of the first cultural institutions to reject money from the Sacklers, which led to the return of a $164,000 gift from the Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation, and on March 19 of this year, London’s National Portrait Gallery followed suit when it revealed it would not proceed with a $1.3 million grant from the Sackler Trust.

“The museum takes a position of gratitude and respect to those who support us, but on occasion, we feel it’s necessary to step away from gifts that are not in the public interest, or in our institution’s interest,” the Met’s president and CEO, Daniel H. Weiss, told the New York Times. “That is what we’re doing here.”

The Met’s history with the family extends back decades. In 1978, the Sacklers were major donors to the construction of its $9.5 million Sackler Wing—the equivalent of roughly $36 million today. However, the institution said that over the last twenty years, it has only received more than $200,000 from members of the Sackler family who are linked to OxyContin.

The museum will not be taking the Sackler name off of the wing, as litigation against the family is still ongoing. (More than six hundred US cities, counties, and Native American tribes have filed lawsuits against members of the Sacklers, including Richard S. Sackler, Jonathan D. Sackler, Mortimer D.A. Sackler, and Theresa Sackler, over their role in igniting today’s opioid epidemic.) It did announce that the board voted to formally codify how to accept gifts moving forward.

In a statement provided to the New York Times, the Sacklers associated with Purdue Pharma said: “While the allegations against our family are false and unfair, we understand that accepting gifts at this time would put the Met in a difficult position. We respect the Met and that is the last thing we would want to do.”

In 2017, features exposing the Sacklers’ dynasty in publications such as the New Yorker drew attention to the part the family played in the opioid crisis, but the change in the donor policies of cultural institutions was mostly the direct result of the hard work of photographer and activist Nan Goldin—who discussed her own struggle with addiction in the January 2018 issue of this magazine—and her group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now). Goldin has teamed up with various groups, students, and other activists and led numerous protests against the Sacklers at institutions across the US.

In the May 2019 issue of Artforum, Christopher Glazek writes: “After an initial burst of attention in late 2017, the story had started to fizzle before Goldin’s group stormed New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in March 2018, pelting the reflecting pool at the ancient Temple of Dendur with orange prescription bottles. . . . Through words, images, and actions, Goldin has given the opioid epidemic something it had previously lacked—a coherent aesthetic of protest.”

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