National Portrait Gallery turns down gift of £1 million from the Sackler Trust

National Portrait Gallery turns down gift of £1 million from the Sackler Trust
National Portrait Gallery, London. Courtesy Flickr Commons.

In a short press release from earlier today, London’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG), in conjunction with the Sackler Trust, announced that it would not be proceeding with a gift of £1 million from the Sackler Trust. The gift was expected to assist with the NPG’s Inspiring People project. The release, in part, read:

‘The Sackler Trust has supported institutions playing crucial roles in health, education, science and the arts for almost half a century and we were pleased to have the opportunity to offer a new gift to support the National Portrait Gallery.

‘The giving philosophy of the family has always been to actively support institutions while never getting in the way of their mission. 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. The allegations against family members are vigorously denied, but to avoid being a distraction for the NPG, we have decided not to proceed at this time with the donation. We continue to believe strongly in the gallery and the wonderful work it does.’

This decision puts the NPG at the forefront of museums dealing with how to handle gifts and donations from the Sackler family as they’re the first to have publicly declined such a gift. The Sackler family has been involved in ongoing investigations into those affected by or killed by opioids like OxyContin, a drug developed and marketed by Perdue Pharmaceuticals, which was founded and is operated by the Sacklers.

It has taken over a year for the NPG’s director and trustees to decide on whether or not to accept the gift. In that time, issues concerning the opioid crisis have only grown and members of the Sackler family were listed in a lawsuit filed by Maura Healey, the Massachusetts Attorney General in January. Soon after Massachusetts filed their suit, New York added Sackler family members to an existing $500 million lawsuit that was filed in 2017 concerning opioids. Following this, the Metropolitan Museum of Art vowed to re-evaluate their gifting policies.

On February 14th, Nan Goldin and her activist organization, P.A.I.N., staged a demonstration at the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was the second Valentine’s Day protest the group organized to call out the Sacklers in contribution to the opioid crisis and to call on museums to reexamine the money they received from the family. ‘We’re here to call out the museums who allow the Sackler name to line their halls, tarnish their wings, to honor the family who made billions off the bodies of hundreds of thousands,’ read Goldin on the evening of the protest.

‘As Chair of the National Portrait Gallery,’ said David Ross, chair of the NPG in the statement. ‘I acknowledge the generosity of the Sackler Family and their support of the Arts over the years. We understand and support their decision not to proceed at this time with the donation to the Gallery.’