Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum Has at Long Last Removed the Sackler Name From Its Galleries

The tainted family name has also been dropped from the university library and staff posts.

Ashmolean Museummain entrance, University of Oxford, England, UK architect Charles Robert Cockerell, 1841-1845. (Photo by: Geography Photos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The University of Oxford in the U.K. will be taking down the Sackler name from its buildings, spaces, and staff positions following a review of the institution’s relationship with the family whose pharmaceutical company set in motion the opioid epidemic.

The outcome was supported by the Sackler family and approved by the University Council on May 15, according to a statement on the university’s website.

The Sackler name will be removed from two galleries at the Ashmolean Museum—Rome Gallery and the Gallery of Life After Death in Ancient Egypt. The museum’s learning officer and keeper of antiquities positions will no longer bear the tainted family name either.

Sackler Library will now become the Bodleian Art, Archeology and Ancient World Library. The Sackler name has also been removed from the associate professorship of sedimentary geology.

But this does not mean that the institution is completely scrubbing its history with the Sackler family. “The Sackler name will be retained on the Clarendon Arch and on the Ashmolean Museum’s donor board for the purposes of historical recording of donations to the University,” the statement read.

The university also retains all the donations received from the Sackler family and their trusts “for their intended education purposes,” the institution continued, adding that it has not received any new donations from the family and their trusts since January 2019.

Oxford students have been calling for the university to sever ties with the Sackler family, which had given more than £11 million ($13.7 million) in donations to the world-famous institution since 1991, according to Oxford’s student newspaper Cherwell.

But Oxford said in 2018 that it will not reconsider the family’s donations despite the outcry over its involvement in the opioid crisis. The family is the owner of Purdue Pharma, which was responsible for the manufacturing of the addictive opioid OxyContin that claimed more than half a million lives in the U.S. Students again voted in 2021 to rename the Sackler library at a Student Council meeting.

Their effort joins that of artist Nan Goldin, whose activist group P.A.I.N. has been urging cultural institutions to drop the Sackler name since 2017. In recent years, a number of leading institutions around the world, including the Tate, National Portrait Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Serpentine in the U.K., the Louvre Museum in Paris, and the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, have severed ties with the Sackler family.


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