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Museum-goers visit the Sackler Wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The wing was named for the Sackler family, major donors to a number of major museums and the owners of Purdue Pharma, which fueled the opioid crisis by manufacturing the painkiller OxyContin. (Photo: Phil Roeder/Flickr/cc)

In Victory for Grassroots Campaign, Met Museum Will Stop Accepting Donations From Opioid Crisis-Fueling Sackler Family

A number of protests led by artist Nan Goldin has made the owners of Purdue Pharma "pariahs," one observer said

Julia Conley

Organizers behind a campaign to pressure major art institutions into cutting ties with the Sackler family secured a major victory Wednesday when the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced it would no longer accept donations from the family, whose pharmaceutical empire helped fuel the opioid crisis.

Fourteen months after the grassroots group P.A.I.N. Sackler held its first public action at the museum, the Met said it determined the family's contributions—which include the $9.5 million Sackler Wing—to be counter to the New York City museum's mission.

"On occasion, we feel it's necessary to step away from gifts that are not in the public interest, or in our institution’s interest," museum president Daniel Weiss told the New York Times.

"We would only not accept gifts from people if it in some way challenges or is counter to the core mission of the institution, in exceptional cases," he added. "The OxyContin crisis in this country is a legitimate and full-blown crisis."

OxyContin is the painkiller which the Sacklers' pharmaceutical company introduced in 1996, assuring doctors and the public that it was not addictive—even though it is chemically very similar to heroin. The aggressive marketing of OxyContin and other opioids for chronic pain helped fuel the opioid crisis, which now kills an average of 130 people per day, and killed a total of 47,000 in 2017.

In March 2018, members of P.A.I.N. Sackler—which is led by artist and opioid addiction survivor Nan Goldinassembled in the Met's Sackler wing to scatter pill bottles and hand out pamplets with statistics about the epidemic, demanding the museum end its relationship with the Sacklers. 

L.A. Kauffman, an activist who has participated in a number of protests by the group, applauded the Met's decision on Wednesday.

"Direct action gets the goods," Kauffman tweeted.

Kauffman also called on the Met and other museums to rename wings and rooms that bear the Sackler name.

Art critic Andrew Russeth also took note, applauding Goldin for effectively making the Sackler family "pariahs" in just over a year.

Jerry Saltz, an art critic for New York Magazine, suggested that museums' shift away from the Sacklers may convince art institutions to refuse donations from other "toxic" contributers.

The American Museum of Natural History also announced Wednesday that it would suspend all donations from the Sacklers. In recent months, the Guggenheim Museum and London's Tate Modern did the same.

The Justice Department reported in 2018 that Purdue Pharma was well aware for almost two decades that OxyContin was addictive and should only be used for acute pain for short periods of time, even as it was marketing it for chronic use.

Announcements that the family's beneficiaries are distancing themselves come as the Sackler family faces a lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James in March. The lawsuit decribes the Sacklers as "masterminds" who illegally "profited off of the suffering and death" of Americans.

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