In this week’s discussion trying to find some exciting controversies in museums, I came across an article about the Sackler family. So, as I was doing some research on the Sackler family, I came to find out a few things, so let me share those with you before I talked about the controversy involving their family and museums.

The Sackler family are descendants of Jewish immigrants to the United States. “The three sons, Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler, all went to medical school and became psychiatrists. They were often cited as early pioneers in medication techniques which ended the common practice of lobotomies.” (Anglin, 2020)

The brothers later in life went on to buy what was called Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company. Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin, a version of oxycodone reformulated in a slow-release form. It was Heavily promoted by Purdue pharma, and oxycodone is seen as a critical drug in the emergence of the opioid epidemic.

As stated in the article written by Eileen Kinsella

In early 2019, people staged regular demonstrations at museums that had halls named after the Sackler family, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then, the National Portrait Gallery in London announced it would not accept a $1.3 million gift from the Sackler family amid multiplying US lawsuits that alleged certain branches of the clan had engaged in deception and misconduct to promote OxyContin despite the public health risks associated with it. This would be what we perceive to be the drug that started the opioid epidemic.

After the first museum decided to turn down the money offered by the Sackler family, many other museums followed: the Tate, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Met, and other institutions announced they would no longer accept money from the family members involved in the lawsuits or associated with the opioid crisis. The Sackler Trust and Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation also announced they would stop all donations while the suits were pending. In July, the Louvre in Paris became the first major museum to remove the Sackler name from its walls. Meanwhile, others, such as the V&A in London, have declined to sever ties with the family, which reached settlements in thousands of opioid cases. Purdue Pharma is now shut down and has been dissolved.

This specific issue deals with a high visibility pharmaceutical company and how they donate money to museums or other organizations. In today’s society, we’re seeing more companies more entities start to have a voice in what is going on globally. There are many examples of this also not just of the black are family but with companies like BP and how they donate money to specific organizations that don’t feel they’re doing great for the environment we’ve also seen this in recent news about the voting in Georgia and how big corporations are pulling events or pulling sponsorships from that state or that city to share their voice of concern and share the voice with what they feel is wrong.



Is it ok for a museum or art gallery to have a voice and hold a stance on controversial issues?

Is it ok for a museum or art gallery to continue accepting financial contributions from those individuals? Or removing their brand from the institution after accepting gifts?

Who speaks for the museum or art gallery in these cases?



Anglin, A. (2020, October 21).

Purdue Pharma, Producers of OxyContin, To Shut Down After ….

Kinsella, E. (2019, December 26)

It Was a Year of Turmoil. Here Are the 11 Biggest ….

Hoffman, J. (2019, September 11) (Https://




2 Thoughts to “Controversies Discussion #12”

  1. Barbara Long

    Good Evening,
    I’m familiar with the family, since, its been in the news. In response to your questions 1). Yes, I believe a museum’s voice is extremely important and could be controversial as well. 2) I leave this question for museums to decide, its not my place to decided if a museum should except funds from questionable entities who are engaged in illegal or ocntroversial activities With regard to the removal of objects in a current or upcoming exhibition/s, this is a decision of the Director and the museum’s board members, and may include some benefactors, as well as grant institutions. Although, an exhibition reflects or focuses on a particular subject matter, there are legal complications as well. This depends on the contract of all parties involved. And so, all museums are faced with acquiring funds to sustain their operations and new collections, staffing shortages at all levels, building costs, as well as updating their physical and digital formats to name a few. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Angela Linn

    This is a tough question Michael and it’s important for museums to think about from where their funding comes. We’ll dive into these issues more in Module 14, Contemporary Issues. There are growing numbers of museums and museum professionals who are committed to social justice issues and promoting change, in both big and small ways. Taking a stand, having a voice, and promoting a position are all ways that “Museums are not Neutral” (we’ll see this again). Being conscientious about who your donors are and what they stand for is important because despite having policies about not condoning the positions of funders, people will absolutely associate the museum with their donors!

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