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A "die-in" protest organized by Nan Goldin's activist PAIN in the courtyard of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (photo by Naomi Polonsky for Hyperallergic)

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A proposed amendment to a bankruptcy restructuring plan submitted by Purdue Pharma could protect museums and other institutions that choose to remove the Sackler Family name from their spaces.

After pleading guilty to federal charges related to its role in the opioid epidemic, Purdue Pharma, the maker of the highly addictive prescription drug OxyContin, filed its restructuring plan in bankruptcy court this week. The proposal would transform the company into a new corporation, funneling revenue from sales toward efforts to mitigate the opioid crisis. Members of the Sackler family will also pay $4.275 billion from their personal fortune, estimated at $13 billion, to reimburse states, municipalities, tribes, and other plaintiffs in the case.

Lawmakers have long opposed the plan, arguing that it does not do enough to hold individual Sacklers accountable and releases them from civil litigation. In a statement yesterday, 23 states and the District of Columbia demanded several amendments to the proposal, including one that would protect museums and other nonprofits seeking to divest from the Sackler family.

“If Tong’s amendment is worked in, it will be like a magic wand freeing museums of honoring the Sackler name and preserving their tarnished legacy,” the activist group PAIN told Hyperallergic.

Over the last three years, several organizations, including New York University and Dia Art Foundation, have dropped the Sackler name from their spaces and titles, largely thanks to advocacy efforts by PAIN, led by artist Nan Goldin. Others, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have suspended accepting funds from the Sackler family.

But removing a donor’s name often requires jumping through legal hoops. A gift agreement to fund the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in the 1980s, for instance, included naming rights in perpetuity; the Smithsonian told the Washington Post that it has no plans to rename the space or return Sackler donations.

In the statement, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong calls for “protections for nonprofits over naming rights for charitable gifts” — essentially allowing institutions like the Smithsonian to get out of perpetuity contracts without facing lawsuits from the family.

Some artists and activists have accused the Sacklers of artwashing — hiding behind their philanthropic contributions, particularly those in the cultural sector—while making a profit from sales of a drug that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Private texts between members of the Sackler family, first published by The.Ink last December, revealed the extent to which museums played a role in their PR strategy at the outset of the Purdue Pharma scandal.

Tong said the restructuring plan “falls short of the accountability that families and survivors deserve.”

“Our states investigated Purdue and the Sacklers and filed the lawsuits that took down their criminal enterprise. During the bankruptcy, our states worked together, across party lines, to force Purdue to turn over millions of pages of evidence and to question the Sacklers under oath. We also joined with every state and thousands of cities and towns to ensure that every dollar states recover is dedicated to addressing the opioid crisis.”

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...