BY Frieze News Desk in News | 25 MAR 19

Sackler Trust Suspends Donations as Galleries Cut Ties Over Opioid Links

The Guggenheim in New York is the latest major arts institution to refuse Sackler money

BY Frieze News Desk in News | 25 MAR 19

Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2010. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The Sackler Trust has halted all new charitable giving in the UK, amid hundreds of lawsuits being filed against members of the Sackler family, for their alleged links to the US opioid crisis. Since 2010, the Sackler Trust has donated GBP£60 million to the arts, medical research and education.

On Monday, in a statement issued by the chair of the Sackler Trust Theresa Sackler, who also sits on the board at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, she announced the decision to stop charitable funding. ‘The Trustees of the Sackler Trust have taken the difficult decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving, while still honouring existing commitments,’ the statement read.

While maintaining that the company and several members of her family remain falsely accused, Sackler added: ‘The current press attention that these legal cases in the United States is generating has created immense pressure on the scientific, medical, educational and arts institutions here in the UK, large and small, that I am so proud to support. This attention is distracting them from the important work that they do.’

On Tuesday 19 March, London’s National Portrait Gallery became the first leading arts institution to decline a grant from the Sackler family, forfeiting a GBP£1 million donation. Tate followed two days later, announcing it would no longer accept donations offered by the family. On Friday 22 March, the Guggenheim in New York followed suit, and became the third major institution to cut ties.

The Sackler Trust is managed by the Sackler family. Certain family members also own Purdue Pharma, which manufactures the prescription painkiller OxyContin. It is alleged that the drug has been falsely advertised and now plays a major role in the opioid crisis, which is killing more than 100 people a day in the US.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, artist and activist Nan Goldin, who has staged a series of high-profile protests in and around leading arts institutions, said: ‘I would appreciate the news if I heard that their money was going to pay reparations for the people whose lives they’ve ruined and the communities they’ve destroyed.

‘There’s 300,000 people dead in this country. Their money should go to in some way pay for all the damage they’ve done.’

However, Professor Christopher Frayling, former rector of the Royal College of Art and former chairman of Arts Council England took a different line, saying it was a ‘very sad day for the arts’.

‘If you look at the performing arts, the museums, the visual arts, the Sackler name is all over this country. It’s had a huge effect over the last 10 years [...] I’m worried that it’ll lead to a sort of moral panic in the arts world where lines are drawn,’ he continued.