The Met to turn down new money from OxyContin maker’s owners
STAMFORD — The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced Wednesday that it would not take new donations from members of the Sackler family who own controversial OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, a move that reflects increasing scrutiny of the Sacklers’ prolific philanthropy.
Following similar decision in recent weeks by other museums and a review of its gift-acceptance policy, the Met’s suspension of its acceptance of new contributions from the family did not come as a major surprise. Criticism has grown in recent months over nonprofit institutions’ ties to the Sacklers, with eight of them named as defendants in Connecticut’s lawsuit against the company, which accuses them of fueling the opioid crisis with deceptive OxyContin marketing.
“Every object and much of the building itself came from individuals driven by a love for art and the spirit of philanthropy,” Met President Daniel Weiss said in a statement. “For this reason, it is our responsibility to ensure that the public is aware of the diligence that we take to generate philanthropic support. Our donors deserve this, and the public should expect it. That is what we’re doing here.”
The Met’s decision would not lead to a re-naming of the Sackler Wing, which houses the Temple of Dendur from ancient Egypt.
In a statement, family members of the late Purdue co-founders Mortimer and Raymond Sackler said they supported the Met’s decision.
“While we know that the allegations being made against our family are false and unfair, the last thing we would want to do is to put the Met in a difficult position, and we understand and respect their decision,” the statement said. “Our goals has always been to support the valuable work of such outstanding organizations, and we remain committed to doing so.”
The Sacklers’ support of the Met began more than 50 years ago — some 30 years before OxyContin went on the market. The Met said it had not received any donations from the Sacklers in the past two years.
But the Sacklers are still widely viewed as some of the museum’s most-prominent backers.
A 1978 announcement of the official dedication of the Sackler Wing reported that its construction cost $9.5 million to build, worth approximately $36 million today.
The same day as the Met’s announcement, the American Museum of Natural History said that it would not take more Sackler donations. The Natural History museum is, coincidentally, a neighbor; it faces the Met from the west side of Central Park.
The voluminous litigation against Purdue and the Sacklers — including ones by Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York that name eight family members as defendants — has piled pressure on museums, universities and medical organizations in the U.S., United Kingdom and Israel to disavow their support from the family. The Sacklers have cumulatively given tens of millions of dollars to those institutions.
In March, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, an Upper East Side Manhattan neighbor of the Met, and the United Kingdom’s National Portrait Gallery and Tate galleries said they would not accept additional Sackler donations.
Meanwhile, Harvard University faces calls from the likes of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, to remove the Sackler name from campus buildings.
“This crisis has been driven by greed, pure and simple,” Warren wrote, in her plan to tackle the opioid crisis. “If you don’t believe that, just look at the Sackler family.”
Connecticut-based beneficiaries of the Sacklers include the University of Connecticut, Yale University and Greenwich Hospital. So far, those organizations have not severed their relationships with the family.
“Returning the money to the Sacklers would not undo the damage of the opioid crisis or punish the family or the company they are associated with,” a UConn spokeswoman said earlier this year. “Rather, it would hamper the work of UConn students and researchers who have no connection to the issues at hand and have done nothing wrong.”
In Stamford, Purdue ranks as one of the most-prominent corporate donors.
It has given between $500,000 and $1 million to the Mill River Park Collaborative, the nonprofit that oversees the downtown park and sponsors the Stamford Downtown Special Services District.
At 61 Atlantic St., The Palace Theatre has an art gallery that is named after Arthur Sackler, who died in 1987. His late brothers bought Purdue’s predecessor company in 1952.
For-profit organizations are always rethinking their relationships. Stamford-based hedge fund Hildene Capital Management told investment entities of Sackler family members late last year that the firm was no longer comfortable managing their money.
Amid those organizations’ distancing from the family, the Sacklers who own Purdue have changed their oversight of the company.
In the past two years, all eight of the Sackler defendants in the Connecticut lawsuit have stepped down from the Purdue board, with the last of them leaving the panel at the beginning of the year.
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