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Sackler Trust, Major Player in British Arts Philanthropy, Will ‘Temporarily Pause’ New Giving

Theresa and Mortimer Sackler.

ALAN DAVIDSON/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

In a statement on Monday, the Sackler Trust, a London-based philanthropic organization that has been a major source of funding for arts institutions, said it will stop giving gifts. The news comes amid protests surrounding the Sackler family’s alleged involvement in the current opioid crisis.

“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 U.K., large and small, that I am so proud to support,” Theresa Sackler, the group’s chair, wrote in a statement on behalf of the organization’s trustees. “This attention is distracting them from the important work that they do. The trustees of the Sackler Trust have taken the difficult decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving, while still honoring existing commitments.”

Several museums said last week that they would no longer accept money from the Sackler family. In England, the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Sackler Trust mutually agreed to call off a planned £1.5 million ($1.32 million) donation, and Tate said it would no longer accept Sackler Trust gifts. (A report by the Art Newspaper last week also revealed that the South London Gallery had returned a gift from the Trust in 2018.) Toward the end of the week, these decisions’ impact was beginning to be felt across the Atlantic: the Guggenheim Museum in New York also said it would decline Sackler funding in the future.

Members of the Sackler family have come under fire from activists because of their ownership of Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company that makes OxyContin. Numerous reports have linked OxyContin to the opioid crisis in the United States, and Purdue is currently the subject of lawsuits that allege it misled consumers about the drug’s addictiveness. The company and its owners have rejected the allegations.

Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.), an activist group founded by artist Nan Goldin, has been an important player in raising awareness of the Sackler family’s funding of museums around the world. P.A.I.N. has protested at various institutions, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Harvard Art Museums, and had previously threatened to hold an action at the National Portrait Gallery.

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