In an article published by The Scotsman earlier today, Scottish politicians condemned the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Dundee branch for accepting a £500,000 (~$657,000) grant from the Sackler Trust.
Over the span of a year, the Sacklers have gone from the museum world’s top philanthropists to personae non gratae because of their role in the ongoing opioid epidemic, which has killed an estimated 200,000 Americans to date. Photographer Nan Goldin has led a grassroots effort to raise awareness of how the family has art-washed its fortune through charitable foundations. She has also called on cultural institutions to divest from the Sacklers. Most recently, she staged a die-in at the Guggenheim Museum that led into a protest at the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the United Kingdom, Goldin threatened to boycott the National Portrait Gallery if it refused to divest from the Sacklers.
The family, which owns Purdue Pharma, is currently being sued by the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut for misleading officials on the dangers of its painkiller, OxyContin, which has killed an estimated 200,000 Americans to date. Dame Theresa Sackler is specifically named in the lawsuit alongside her husband, Mortimer. She also happens to be the family trust’s chairwoman and a V&A museum trustee.
The £80 million (~$104 million) V&A Dundee opened in September to 100,000 visits in its first three weeks and expects to hit or exceed the 500,000-visitor mark within its first year. Critics had hoped that the museum would help rejuvenate a city with the highest rate of drug deaths in the EU, which has been largely attributed to prescription drugs.
“Profiting from addiction is never ethical,” Labor MSP Monica Lennon told the newspaper. “Transparency around donations is really important as no city or community wants to benefit from the suffering of others.”
Mortimer Sackler began his studies at Glasgow University in central Scotland. The university has received financial backing from his Trust for its Imaging Centre of Excellence at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital which it said would “change and save lives.” Edinburgh University also has the Sackler Center for Developmental Psychobiology.
Green MSP Ross Greer said: “Public and charitable bodies in Scotland who’ve benefited from the company’s profits via the Sackler Trust should return those donations or otherwise work to ensure justice is delivered for opioid victims. The V&A and both universities can take the lead on that.”
Both universities told the publication that they regularly review donations. “We are following legal developments in the United States closely and keeping our Ethical Fundraising Advisory Group closely informed,” a spokeswoman at Edinburgh University told The Scotsman.
Replying to the article, a spokesperson for the V&A Dundee said: “V&A Dundee has received historic support from the Sackler Trust and the Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation for the creation of the museum, as have many other major cultural projects in the UK.”