Within a matter of days, three major museums have publicly announced that they will no longer accept money from the Sackler family, who have profited off of the sale of opioids despite knowing of their addictive potential. The Sacklers are directly tied to Purdue Pharma, the producer of OxyContin. According to the CDC, over two-thirds of all fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2017 were opioid-related.
Over the weekend, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City made their announcement. Over the course of many years, the Guggenheim has received a total of $9 million in gifts from members of the Sackler family, some of which was used to establish the institution’s Sackler Center for Arts Education. “[The center] serves approximately 300,000 youth, adults, and families each year,” the museum added. Last month, the museum was the venue for a high profile “die-in” in protest of its ties to opioid profiteers. The protest was organized by P.A.I.N. Sackler, a campaign founded by world-renowned photographer Nan Goldin who spent years addicted to OxyContin and survived a fentanyl overdose. P.A.I.N. stands for Prescription Addiction Intervention Now and calls for the Sackler family to invest their profits in addiction treatment and reeducation rather than in museums.
The Guggenheim’s decision follows mere days after the Tate galleries and the National Portrait Gallery of London made their own announcements that they would both no longer accept Sackler donations. “We do not intend to remove references to this historic philanthropy,” the Tate said in a statement. “However, in the present circumstances we do not think it right to seek or accept further donations from the Sacklers.” If the Tate had not renounced any future donations from the Sacklers, Goldin was prepared to organize a protest at the gallery in the spring when her work is to be shown at the Tate Modern. The Guardian wrote about her fraught realization that she had been buying OxyContin with money paid to her by the museum, which had gotten the money from the Sacklers, to whom she had been giving her money for their addictive drugs.
The National Portrait Gallery was the first to announce that they would be cutting donor ties with the Sacklers, going so far as to forgo a $1.3 million grant that was in the works. The gallery had also been in the midst of discussions with Goldin over a retrospective of her work, which she said she would decline if the institution decided to take the grant. “I’m thrilled about the news, and I congratulate them on their courage,” Goldin told the New York Times last week. “I don’t take credit for it. Maybe I put the last nail in the coffin,” she added, “but they’ve been in discussions for a long time.”