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The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to Stop Taking Donations from Sackler Family

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York is the latest arts institution to announce that it will no longer accept donations from members of the Sackler family tied to the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer and distributer of OxyContin. According to the New York Times, the museum shared its decision on Friday, March 22 in a brief statement that did not elaborate on its reasons behind the move.

The institution said that it had “received a total of $7 million in gifts from members of the Mortimer D. Sackler family initiated in 1995 and paid out through 2006 to establish and support the Sackler Center for Arts Education, which serves approximately 300,000 youth, adults, and families each year. An additional $2 million was received between 1999 and 2015 to support the museum. No contributions from the Sackler family have been received since 2015. No additional gifts are planned, and the Guggenheim does not plan to accept any gifts.”

Mortimer and his late brothers Arthur and Raymond Sackler were psychiatrists who grew a small company into a pharmaceutical dynasty. Arthur passed away in 1987 after selling his shares of the company to Mortimer and Raymond and before the drug OxyContin was introduced on the market in 1995. The company and its top executives have since faced legal action over misleading the medical industry about the risks of the painkiller, and in 2007, it paid out more than $600 million in fines and other payments to resolve criminal and civil charges.

The museum’s decision comes one day after Tate made a similar announcement, citing “present circumstances,” and four days after more than six hundred cities, counties, and Native American tribes from twenty-eight states filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York that accuses eight members of the Sackler family, including Richard S. Sackler, Jonathan D. Sackler, Mortimer D.A. Sackler, and Theresa Sackler, of creating the opioid epidemic.

“Because they controlled their own privately held drug company, the Sackler Defendants had the power to decide how addictive narcotics were sold,” the lawsuit reads. “They got more patients on opioids, at higher doses, for longer, than ever before. They paid themselves billions of dollars. They are responsible for addiction, overdose, and death that damaged millions of lives. They should be held accountable now.”

Purdue Pharma denies the allegations. In response to the new suit, a spokesperson for the families of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler provided CNN with the following statement: “The company our fathers and grandfathers founded manufactures an FDA-approved medicine that has always represented a tiny portion of the opioid market—never more than four percent of nationwide opioid prescriptions and currently less than two percent— while providing life-changing relief for the millions of pain patients who need it.”

Bob Josephson, a representative of Purdue Pharma, added: “This complaint is part of a continuing effort by contingency fee counsel to single out Purdue, blame it for the entire opioid crisis in the United States, and try the case in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system.”

Last month, dozens of activists converged on the Guggenheim to take part in a demonstration led by photographer Nan Goldin. They called on the museum to not accept any more money from the Sacklers and to remove their name from the education center. Other institutions that have publicly revealed they will refuse future gifts include the South London Gallery, which returned $164,000 to the Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation last year, and London’s National Portrait Gallery, which issued a joint announcement with the Sackler Trust that said the organizations mutually agreed not to proceed with a $1.3 million grant that had been held up since 2016.