London’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG) has decided not to accept a £1 million ($1.3 million) grant from the Sackler Trust. This decision comes in the wake of protests at several U.S. institutions with financial ties to the Sackler family—including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University. Many of the protests have been led in part by photographer Nan Goldin. Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin is primarily owned by the descendants of the late Mortimer Sackler and his brother Raymond. The drug has been a key player in the national opioid epidemic, an epidemic that has not spared the U.K.
This may be the first instance of an institution publicly declining a gift from the Sacklers since the protests began. The gift would have gone to the museum’s £35.5 million ($47 million) “Inspiring People” project, which includes a building development, a new education center, and rehanging the museum’s permanent collection.
In 2017, news of this million-pound donation leaked to the public and it became increasingly clear that, should the NPG accept it, protests would soon follow. According to The Art Newspaper, the NPG decided in 2018 to set up an Ethics Committee that would examine possibly problematic donations that were going to the Inspiring People project. Late last month, the Ethics Committee met with Sackler Trust and the meeting resulted in a mutual decision that the offer should be withdrawn.
Sackler Trust issued a statement Tuesday morning, stating:
The giving philosophy of the family has always been to actively support institutions while never getting in the way of their mission [...]. 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
David Ross, the NPG chairman, commented in turn:
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.
As is true in the U.S., a huge number of art institutions throughout the U.K. have accepted substantial donations from the Sacklers in the past. By taking this stance, the NPG may have set a new standard for institutions across the globe.