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Sackler Trust withdraws donation to the National Portrait Gallery after pressure from campaigners

22 March 2019

Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey both received gifts from the Sackler family, whose pharmacy company is being sued in the US


The Trust has withdrawn its £1 million donation to the National Portrait Gallery

The Trust has withdrawn its £1 million donation to the National Portrait Gallery

THE Sackler Trust, whose pharmaceutical company is being blamed for the deaths of dozens of people in the United States, has withdrawn its £1 million donation to the National Portrait Gallery in London after pressure from campaigners.

The Sackler family has donated millions of pounds to religious, cultural, and heritage institutions in the UK in recent years, having made billions on an addictive prescription painkiller OxyContin. The drug is produced by its pharmacy company Purdue Pharma, which is being sued in the US over the deaths of dozens of people.

Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral are among the British institutions to have accepted six-figure donations from the Trust.

A spokeswoman for the Abbey said on Wednesday: “Like many other cultural and heritage institutions in this country, Westminster Abbey has accepted philanthropic gifts from the Sackler Trust. There is currently no discussion between the Trust and the Abbey about future projects.”

The executive director of strategic development for Canterbury Cathedral, Andrew Edwards, said: “Donations are an important part of ensuring Canterbury Cathedral’s legacy. Like many other cultural organisations, the Cathedral has been the recipient of a grant from the Sackler Trust in the past, but there are no current applications in place or being considered.”

A campaign against institutions that have accepted money from the Sackler family is being led by the American artist Nan Goldin, who says that she was addicted to OxyContin for years after being prescribed the drug. Ms Goldin reportedly told the National Portrait Gallery that she would not accept an invitation to have a retrospective there, should they accept the Sackler’s donation towards its £35-million redevelopment project.

A spokesperson for the Trust said this week: “It has become evident that recent reporting of allegations made against Sackler family members may cause this new donation to deflect the National Portrait Gallery from its important work.

“The allegations against family members are vigorously denied, but, to avoid being a distraction for the gallery, we have decided not to proceed at this time with the donation. We continue to believe strongly in the gallery and the wonderful work it does.”

The chairman of the National Portrait Gallery, David Ross, said: “I acknowledge the generosity of the Sackler family and their support of the arts over the years. We understand and support their decision not to proceed at this time with the donation to the gallery.”

A spokesperson for the gallery said: “We fully respect and support the Sackler family’s decision.”

Other organisations to have received grants from the Sacklers include the National Gallery, the Royal Opera House, Tate Modern, the Old Vic, the Royal Ballet School, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and several universities. Dame Theresa Sackler — the British widow of Mortimer Sackler, who headed Purdue Pharma after the launch of Oxycontin in 1996 — is a government-appointed trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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