New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art says it no longer will take donations from the Sackler family, principal owner of Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin.
The Met said in a statement Wednesday that it decided to end the relationship with the Sacklers because of the company’s “production of opioids and the ensuing health crisis surrounding the abuse of these medications.” The Met has no plans to rename the Sackler Wing of the museum though, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
The families of physicians Mortimer and Raymond Sackler were quick to respond to the Met’s decision, denying allegations that the family is linked to the crisis.
“While the allegations against our family are false and unfair, we understand that accepting gifts at this time would put the Met in a difficult position. We respect the Met and that is the last thing we would want to do. Our goal has always been to support the valuable work of such outstanding organizations, and we remain committed to doing so.”
Purdue has been accused of contributing to the opioid crisis in the United States by aggressively marketing OxyContin while denying its association with overdose and death. Attorneys for the family and for Purdue Pharma have continuously denied those allegations.
Daniel Weiss, president and CEO of the Met, said in a statement that private philanthropy literally built the museum.
“What distinguishes our Museum from its global peers, such as the Prado, the Hermitage, and the Louvre, is the fact that we did not begin with a royal or imperial collection,” he said. “Every object and much of the building itself came from individuals driven by a love for art and the spirit of philanthropy. 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.”
The New York City museum has received support from many members of the Sackler family over generations.
In the family there are “varying degrees of relation to Purdue Pharma,” the museum said in its statement.
“The Sackler family has graciously supported The Met for 50 years and has not proposed any new contributions,” said Weiss. “Nonetheless, in consideration of the ongoing litigation, the prudent course of action at this time is to suspend acceptance of gifts from individuals associated with this public health crisis.”
Sacklers are known for philanthropy
Before it became the focus of scathing accusations coming from numerous lawsuits, the Sackler name was most closely associated with some of the premier cultural and academic institutions in the world.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Sackler Wing houses one of the museum’s jewels: the Temple of Dendur. One Sackler brother, Mortimer, once held a birthday party at the museum as an adult, with a cake in the shape of the Great Sphinx but for a particular detail: Its face was a replica of Mortimer’s, according to an article in the New Yorker magazine.
The Sacklers have also gifted a wing at the Louvre; a courtyard at the Victoria & Albert Museum; a center for feminist art at the Brooklyn Museum; and an arts education center at the Guggenheim Museum of Art; and donated to dozens of other institutions, including the National Gallery, the Tate, the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History.
As the family’s purported role in the opioid crisis has been exposed during litigation, many of these institutions have faced increasing pressure to return their gifts and remove the family name from their facilities.
The Tate announced in March that it would stop accepting donations from the family because of the opioid crisis.
The Sackler family and Purdue Pharma face numerous lawsuits connected to the drug. Plaintiffs include states, cities and Native American tribes.
CNN’s Lauren DelValle, Emily Dixon, Athena Jones, Laura Ly, Mark Morales and Erica Orden contributed to this report.