Amid Mounting Pressure and Numerous Lawsuits, the Sackler Trust Halts Philanthropic Giving

Theresa Sackler says the trust has made the "difficult decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving."

The Sackler Courtyard, a new addition to the Victoria and Albert museum is unveiled to the public in London on June 28, 2017. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images.
The Sackler Courtyard, a new addition to the Victoria and Albert museum is unveiled to the public in London on June 28, 2017. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images.

The Sackler Trust and the Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation plan to halt philanthropic giving amid mounting lawsuits against members of the Sackler family in the United States. Since 2010, the UK-based Sackler Trust has committed £60 million ($79 million) to the arts, medical research, and education. But in recent months, the trust has been under intense scrutiny due to its association with Purdue Pharma, the maker of the controversial painkiller OxyContin.

Today, the trust’s chair, Theresa Sackler, announced that “the current press attention that these legal cases in the United States is generating has created immense pressure on the scientific, medical, educational and arts institutions here in the UK, large and small, that I am so proud to support. This attention is distracting them from the important work that they do.”

As a result, she said in a statement, she and her fellow trustees “have taken the difficult decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving, while still honoring existing commitments.” Although she maintains the allegations against the company and members of the family are false, Sackler said “it is the better course for the Trust to halt all new giving until we can be confident that it will not be a distraction for institutions that are applying for grants.”

The Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation, a separate charitable organization that encompasses other relatives of Mortimer Sackler beyond his three children, also announced plans to cease making donations. “In line with The Sackler Trust decision, the Trustees of the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation have taken the decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving, while still honoring existing commitments,” the organization said in a statement.

The Sackler Trust has funded a host of major UK art institutions, including the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, London’s Royal College of Art, the Milton Keynes Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The trust’s decision to pause its activities follows a series of major announcements last week from institutions that stated they would no longer accept money from the Sackler family. The National Portrait Gallery announced it had reached a “mutual” agreement with the Sackler Trust to drop a planned £1 million ($1.3 million) pledge for its refurbishment. Several days later, the Tate announced it would no longer accept funds from the Sacklers.

These moves follow more than a year of demonstrations, protest, and pressure from advocacy groups led by the photographer Nan Goldin, which sought to draw attention to the Sacklers’ cultural philanthropy and the role it has played in burnishing their image.

Theresa Sackler, who also sits on the board of the Victoria & Albert Museum, has been named in a civil action in the US for her role in Purdue Pharma, which was led by her late husband, Mortimer Sackler, and his brother, Raymond. Since the company released Oxycontin in 1996, more than 200,000 people in the US have died of prescription drug overdoses. The company and family deny any wrongdoing.

The Sackler Trust is not the only organization with ties to the Sackler family and a history of funding the arts. The Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundations, among others, have funded cultural institutions including the Science Museum in London, the British Museum, and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. These foundations have not yet made any announcements about their future plans.

Read the full statement from Theresa Sackler below.

I am deeply saddened by the addiction crisis in America and support the actions Purdue Pharma is taking to help tackle the situation, whilst still rejecting the false allegations made against the company and several members of the Sackler family.

The current press attention that these legal cases in the United States is generating has created immense pressure on the scientific, medical, educational and arts institutions here in the UK, large and small, that I am so proud to support. This attention is distracting them from the important work that they do.

The Trustees of the Sackler Trust have taken the difficult decision to temporarily pause all new philanthropic giving, while still honouring existing commitments.

I remain fully committed to all the causes the Sackler Trust supports, but at this moment it is the better course for the Trust to halt all new giving until we can be confident that it will not be a distraction for institutions that are applying for grants.

UPDATE: This article was updated on March 25 to include a statement from the Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation.


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