The End of the Sackler Name on Art Buildings and Museums

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the latest institution to drop relations with the Sackler family, philanthropists descended from the creators of harmful opioids in the United States.

Oct 9, 2022By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
the Sackler Courtyard
A space formerly known as the Sackler Courtyard at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London


Following objections from activists, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the most recent establishment to take the Sackler name off its walls. The Sackler name was removed from the V&A’s teaching center and one of its courtyards as of Saturday. Artist Nan Goldin and her activist group P.A.I.N. played a significant role in pushing for these removals.


“We all choose our fight, and this is mine” – Nan Goldin

Protest at the Temple of Dendur
Protest at the Temple of Dendur in the Met. Photographer: PAIN


P.A.I.N. Organized prominent demonstrations to link Sackler family donations to the opioid crisis. These initiatives are highlighted in a brand-new Goldin documentary by Laura Poitras, who won the top honor at the Venice Film Festival this year.


“We all choose our fight, and this is mine”, Goldin told the Observer three years ago, as she led a group of 30 protesters in laying pill bottles and red-stained “Oxy dollar” bills on the tiled floor of the V&A courtyard. The group then performed a “die-in,” lying down to signify the 400,000 deaths globally blamed on opioid addiction. The demonstration is a result of efforts to prevent British and American cultural institutions from receiving gifts and sponsorship from the family.


“It’s incredible,” remarked Goldin after learning the news. “As soon as I heard it, I was stunned. When it comes to those still in favor of the Sacklers, the V&A has been their last stronghold.”


PAIN protest against the Sackler Family
Photo courtesy of Sackler PAIN

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The late Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler’s family and the museum reached an understanding on the choice. Both the courtyard and the teaching center are still without a new name. A museum spokesperson said: “The V&A and the family of the late Dr Mortimer D. Sackler have mutually agreed that the V&A’s Centre for Arts Education and its Exhibition Road courtyard will no longer carry the Sackler name”.


“Dame Theresa Sackler was a trustee of the V&A between 2011 and 2019, and we are grateful for her service to the V&A over the years. We have no current plans to rename the spaces.”


“Museums are now entering a new era” – George Osborne

Sackler PAIN protesting
Sackler PAIN protest at the Louvre in Paris. Photo courtesy of Sackler PAIN.


The Sackler family’s company Purdue Pharma sold OxyContin, a highly addictive drug. Allegations have been made that Purdue and the Sackler family deliberately minimized OxyContin’s potential for addiction, and so made a significant contribution to the continuing opioid crisis. Purdue Pharma and eight U.S. States agreed on a $6 billion deal in March of this year-the settlement will result in the company’s dissolution by 2024.


Trustees reconsidered their affluent benefactors in response to public pressure to separate themselves from the family. The V&A stated this past weekend that their strict financial support policies remain the same.


“All donations are reviewed against the V&A’s gift acceptance policy, which includes due diligence procedures, considers reputational risk, and outlines best practice within the sector,” the spokesperson said.


Nan Goldin speaking at the protest
Nan Goldin speaking at the protest at the Met in 2018. Photo by Michael Quinn


The Sackler name was removed from The Louvre Museum’s eastern antiquities section in 2019, and Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art followed suit following 14 months of deliberation.


In 2019, the National Portrait Gallery in London turned down a $1.3 million bequest from the Sackler family, becoming the first major art museum to officially refuse money from the family. According to its website, the Sackler Trust has donated more than £60 million ($81 million) to research and education institutions in the United Kingdom since 2010.


Ending the link with the Sackler family after 30 years would “move the museum into a new era”, said George Osborne, the chairman of the museum and former chancellor of the exchequer.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.