The Sackler Trust, which says it has donated over £60 million (~$79 million) to UK organizations since 2010, will temporarily suspend its philanthropic donations so that it “will not be a distraction for institutions that are applying for grants.” Preexisting commitments will still be honored.
The decision is an update in a major controversy surrounding the Sackler name — the family is a major philanthropic force in the arts, as well as the owners of Purdue Pharma, a drug company that manufactures OxyContin. The family and company are currently the subjects of hundreds of lawsuits, accusing them of feeding the opioid crisis for monetary gain through vicious PR campaigns for the drug, including lawsuits on behalf of the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut (where the company is headquartered).
Photographer and drug policy advocate, Nan Goldin, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program: “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.” In 2017, Goldin founded PAIN Sackler, an activist organization that demands “all museums, universities, and educational institutions worldwide remove Sackler signage and publicly refuse future funding from the Sacklers.”
“I think that [the Sacklers are] saving face,” Goldin added. “They’re pulling back before anybody else can pull back from them.”
Last week, the National Portrait Gallery in London returned a £1 million (~$1.3 million) donation. Days later, the Guggenheim and Tate announced they would no longer accept any gifts offered by the Sacklers.
In the days following, Dame Theresa Sackler, the chairwoman of the Sackler Trust, said in a statement issued on behalf of the trustees:
I am deeply saddened by the addiction crisis in America and support the actions Purdue Pharma is taking to help tackle the situation, whilst still rejecting the false allegations made against the company and several members of the Sackler family.
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.
Dame Sackler continued:
The trustees of the Sackler Trust have taken the difficult decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving, while still honouring existing commitments. I remain fully committed to all the causes the Sackler Trust supports, but at this moment it is the better course for the trust to halt all new giving until we can be confident that it will not be a distraction for institutions that are applying for grants.