The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York announced on Wednesday that it will stop accepting gifts from members of the Sackler family who own the company making the OxyContin prescription painkillers implicated in the US opioids crisis.
The museum on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious, had been subject to direct action protests over the last year by activists enraged that the institution maintained ties to the controversial, multibillionaire family.
The decision by the Met follows similar recent decisions about Sackler philanthropy by the Guggenheim Museum in New York, a number of US academic institutions and, in Britain, the Tate art group, the National Portrait Gallery and the Serpentine gallery.
The museum said on Wednesday that it will “suspend accepting gifts from members of the Sackler family presently associated with Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin”.
The Met had been reviewing its gift policy in recent months. It said its decision was “precipitated in part by recent scrutiny of gifts received from individuals related to the production of opioids and the ensuing public health crisis surrounding the abuse of these medications”.
Eight leading members of the Sackler family are currently named in several high-profile lawsuits, accusing them of being knowingly involved in aggressive overprescription of OxyContin and the underplaying of its addictive risks, via their control of the private company that makes the drug, Purdue Pharma.
Purdue Pharma is being sued by more than 1,500 US cities and counties and dozens of states, the latest being Pennsylvania on Tuesday, that aim to hold the company accountable for the rise of addiction and drug overdose deaths related to the spread of opioids such as OxyContin in the last 20 years.
The family and the company strenuously deny wrongdoing and deny the allegations in all the lawsuits.
The Met president, Daniel Weiss, said: “Private philanthropy literally built the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Every object and much of the building itself came from individuals driven by a love for art and the spirit of philanthropy.”
But he added: “For this reason, it is our responsibility to ensure that the public is aware of the diligence that we take to generate philanthropic support. Our donors deserve this, and the public should expect it.”
The museum has no plans to remove the Sackler name from the institution, which features the longstanding Sackler wing containing the Temple of Dendur antiquities from ancient Egypt.
A spokesperson for family members of the late Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, who controlled Purdue Pharma when it developed OxyContin, said: “While the allegations against our family are false and unfair, we understand that accepting gifts at this time would put the Met in a difficult position. We respect the Met and that is the last thing we would want to do. Our goal has always been to support the valuable work of such outstanding organizations, and we remain committed to doing so.”
The American art photographer Nan Goldin last year began a campaign called Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (Pain) Sackler, taking direct action against cultural institutions that accept donations from the widows and descendants of Mortimer and Raymond. The first protest was at the Temple of Dendur.
“We are thrilled. This step is long overdue and it’s only a matter of time before museums will come to their senses and take down the Sackler name as well,” LA Kauffman, a member of Pain Sackler told the Guardian.
The Met further said in its public statement that the museum had received support from the Sackler family over many generations, and acknowledged that within the family there “are varying degrees” of relation to Purdue Pharma.
“The Sackler family has graciously supported The Met for 50 years and has not proposed any new contributions,” Weiss continued.
“Nonetheless, in consideration of the ongoing litigation, the prudent course of action at this time is to suspend acceptance of gifts from individuals associated with this public health crisis.”