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Joining wave of institutions, London museum drops Sackler name from exhibits

Victoria and Albert Museum cuts ties from American family blamed for fueling opioid crisis; advocacy group leader Nan Goldin hails ‘big victory’

Illustrative: Protesters stage a die-in and have their shapes traced on the sidewalk outside the courthouse where the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy is taking place in White Plains, New York, August 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Illustrative: Protesters stage a die-in and have their shapes traced on the sidewalk outside the courthouse where the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy is taking place in White Plains, New York, August 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum has removed the Sackler name from exhibitions amid mounting pressure to cut ties with family members tied to Purdue Pharma, the maker of painkiller OxyContin viewed as having fueled the American opioid crisis.

The company is charged with targeting doctors in a marketing campaign for the prescription drug while minimizing its addictive effects.

Signs bearing the Sackler name were removed from the museum’s Center for Arts Education and its Exhibition Road courtyard over the weekend. The decision was made in conjunction with the family, British news outlets reported.

Smaller signs were said to have been left for the time being, and a museum spokesperson said in a statement that there were no current plans to rename the facilities.

The museum noted, however, that it was “immensely grateful” to Dame Theresa Sackler, who had served as a trustee from 2011 to 2019, for her service to the institution. The spokesperson also said that criteria for accepting donations have remained unchanged.

Sackler P.A.I.N (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), an advocacy group founded by American artist Nan Goldin, has encouraged cultural institutions benefitting from the family’s philanthropy to cut ties since 2017.

US photographer and activist Nan Goldin speaks during a protest in front of the courthouse where the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy was taking place in White Plains, New York, August 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Goldin, who herself had struggled with an addiction to OxyContin, told the Guardian, “I was shocked when I heard it. The V&A has been the last bastion of holdouts in terms of those supporting the Sacklers.”

“It’s a big victory for people who go to museums and do not want to see the name of the family who helped ignite the overdose crisis,” she said.

The museum joins institutions across the world and the UK in doing so. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre in Paris removed the Sackler name from exhibitions in 2019, and the British Museum renamed galleries bearing the name earlier this year.

A Harvard University art museum still uses the Sackler name.

Some Sackler family members have spoken out against the company’s role in the crisis, and descendants of one of its founders, Arthur Sackler, said that their charitable contributions did not come from opioid revenue. That branch of the family had cashed out of the company shortly after Arthur’s death, nine years before the company released OxyContin.

Fake pill bottles with messages about Purdue Pharma are displayed during a protest outside the courthouse where the bankruptcy of the company is taking place in White Plains, New York, August, 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to misbranding OxyContin in 2007 and paid $600 million in penalties, filing for bankruptcy in 2019.

A deal was reached earlier this year in which family members who own the company agreed to pay $6 billion from personal holdings, in addition to revenue from the company, to settle suits against it.

An earlier settlement had been appealed by eight states and the District of Columbia over a clause providing the family with protection from civil lawsuits, which they agreed to accept after the Sacklers offered more cash and accepted other terms.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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