London’s National Portrait Gallery has agreed to turn down a $1.3 million donation from the Sackler family, the prominent family that owns and controls Purdue Pharma and has been accused of helping to fuel the U.S. opioid epidemic by illegally marketing the painkiller OxyContin.
In a statement, the museum and the family’s charitable organization, the Sackler Trust, described the decision as a joint one.
“It has become evident that recent reporting of allegations made against Sackler family members may cause this new donation to deflect the National Portrait Gallery from its important work,” a spokesperson for the Sackler Trust said. The spokesperson “vigorously denied” those allegations, but said the trust didn’t want them to become a distraction for the gallery’s work.
The gallery’s leaders have spent more than a year deciding whether to turn down the donation to support a renovation and new developments, according to the website Artnet News, which first reported the decision.
Museums have faced increasing pressure over their acceptance of money from the Sackler family. Activist and photographer Nan Goldin, who has staged high-profile protests at museums and galleries bearing the Sackler name, has said she would not work with the National Portrait Gallery on a possible project if it took money from the Sackler Trust.
At a protest last month at the Sackler Center for Arts Education at the Guggenheim in New York City, activists handed out fake prescriptions featuring emails from Richard Sackler, Purdue’s former president. The emails were uncovered amid an ongoing lawsuit by the state of Massachusetts against Purdue and some of the Sackler family. That lawsuit alleges that Purdue, the Sackler family, and company executives misled prescribers and patients about the addictive nature of OxyContin as they aimed to boost prescriptions.
“We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” Sackler wrote in an email in February 2001. “They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”
Two weeks after the Guggenheim protest, STAT and ProPublica published a secret deposition of Richard Sackler that was part of a court case in Kentucky. That document, part of a cache of sealed court records STAT had fought for almost three years to make public, showed that Sackler had embraced a plan to conceal OxyContin’s strength from doctors in the late 1990s.
In a statement, National Portrait Gallery chair David Ross acknowledged the Sackler family’s support of the arts over the years, but said the organization understands and supports the decision not to move forward with the donation.