The Slatest

U.K.’s National Portrait Gallery and Sackler Family Cancel $1.3 Million Donation Over Opioid Crisis Controversy

Pedestrians walk past the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery in central London on Aug. 24, 2018.
Pedestrians walk past the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery in central London on Aug. 24. Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images

The National Portrait Gallery in London announced Tuesday a $1.3 million donation from the Sackler family trust will be cancelled amidst growing criticism of the family’s ownership of OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, which is at the heart of the opioid crisis in the U.S. The gallery becomes the first major art institution to give up a Sackler grant, a move that reveals increasing wariness of the philanthropic largesse of one of the world’s wealthiest families. The decision follows sustained legal and activist challenges to the Sackler family for its involvement in allegedly helping fuel the opioid crisis by portraying the pain drug OxyContin as non-addictive despite knowing otherwise.

“The Sackler Trust and the National Portrait Gallery have jointly agreed not to proceed at this time with a £1m gift from the Sackler Trust,” the National Portrait Gallery said in a statement Tuesday. “The giving philosophy of the family has always been to actively support institutions while never getting in the way of their mission,” the Sackler Trust said in a statement. “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.”

“While both parties insisted that the decision was mutual, it will be seen as a major blow to the family’s status as leading philanthropists and evidence that a campaign against the Sacklers, led by the American artist Nan Goldin, has been effective,” the Guardian notes. “The NPG is one of many British cultural institutions in line for substantial donations from members of the family, but it faced severe pressure from artists and campaigners who argued that accepting funding from the owners of the company that makes OxyContin would make the NPG complicit in its harms.”

The gallery has reportedly mulled the donation for over a year, as the opioid controversy engulfed the Sackler family, which financially benefits from the pharmaceutical company built by the late brothers Mortimer and Raymond Sackler. “The Sackler Trust is one of a number of Sackler family trusts and foundations which have made gifts to some of the UK’s most prominent cultural institutions, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Modern and The Serpentine gallery, as well as scientific and educational bodies,” the Financial Times reports.

Correction, March 20, 2019: An earlier version of this post said the National Gallery refused the Sackler donation; the gallery and the Sackler Trust said in a statement that the decision “not to proceed at this time” was a joint one.