The Met Will Turn Down Sackler Money Amid Fury Over the Opioid Crisis

The Metropolitan Museum of Art said on Wednesday that it would stop accepting gifts from members of the Sackler family linked to OxyContin, severing ties between one of the world’s most prestigious museums and one of its most prolific philanthropic dynasties.

The decision was months in the making, and followed steps by other museums, including the Tate Modern in London and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, to distance themselves from the family behind Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. On Wednesday, the American Museum of Natural History said that it, too, had ceased taking Sackler donations.

The moves reflect the growing outrage over the role the Sacklers may have played in the opioid crisis, as well as an energized activist movement that is starting to force museums to reckon with where some of their money comes from.

“The museum takes a position of gratitude and respect to those who support us, but on occasion, we feel it’s necessary to step away from gifts that are not in the public interest, or in our institution’s interest,” said Daniel H. Weiss, the president of the Met. “That is what we’re doing here.”

“We would only not accept gifts from people if it in some way challenges or is counter to the core mission of the institution, in exceptional cases,” he added. “The OxyContin crisis in this country is a legitimate and full-blown crisis.”

Three brothers, Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, bought a small company called Purdue Frederick in 1952 and transformed it into the pharmaceutical giant it is today. In 1996, Purdue Pharma put the opioid painkiller OxyContin on the market, fundamentally altering the company’s fortunes.

The family’s role in the marketing of OxyContin, and in the opioid crisis, has come under increased scrutiny in recent years. Documents submitted this year as part of litigation by the attorney general of Massachusetts allege that members of the Sackler family directed the company’s efforts to mislead the public about the dangers of the highly addictive drug. The company has denied the allegations and said it “neither created nor caused the opioid epidemic.”

Arthur Sackler died before OxyContin’s creation and his side of the family, which has supported institutions including the Smithsonian and the Brooklyn Museum, sold its stake in the pharmaceutical business after his death. One of his children, Elizabeth A. Sackler, has called the company’s role in the opioid epidemic “morally abhorrent.”

Mr. Weiss, who described the Met’s decision as a “suspension,” said the museum would refuse only gifts from members of the Sackler family closely connected to Purdue. Those gifts have exceeded $200,000 over the last two decades, a small amount for a museum with a $320 million annual budget, but the symbolism was unmistakable.

The family’s contributions to the Met go back some 50 years. A 1978 news release announcing the official dedication of the Sackler Wing said it cost $9.5 million to build — about $36 million in today’s dollars — and called the Sacklers “major donors” to the project. At the dedication reception, which was jointly hosted by the Met and the three brothers, the Martha Graham Dance Company performed a new work at the Temple of Dendur, which was a gift from Egypt to the United States.

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