Monday, February 11, 2019

The Politics of Sponsorship - a new reality for art galleries and museums

Sackler is a name I associated with sponsorship of the Arts. This is because Dr Arthur M Sackler who was a physician, scientist was also an art collector who endowed institutions of learning and culture throughout the world.

He's now dead but his family continues to sponsor the arts.

Images of the Art Galleries and Museums endowed by Sackler (from his website)
However, Sackler is now a name which ranks alongside BP (post the Deep Water Horizon spill) in terms of the opprobrium and level of protest at sponsorship - and gets the same extensive level of coverage.

See the coverage this weekend following significant protests at the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The same thing happened last year

The gist of the campaign is this.

  • The Sackler family wholly owns Purdue Pharma, which makes the prescription painkiller OxyContin.
  • Oxycontin is the brand name of a timed release of oxycodene, a prescription analgesic for moderate to severe pain 
  • Oxycontin allegedly tends to create addiction and a number of people are said to have died from that addiction. In 2011 it was the leading cause of drug related deaths in the United States.
  • Accusers allege that the Sackler Family and their company are in effect "the highest form of drug dealers" (see Hyperallergic article) 
  • Goldin is a photographer - and her work is in the Guggenheim which was targeted for protest this weekend. Her interest is that she apparently recently recovered from a near-fatal addiction to OxyContin.
  • This weekend she continued her campaign - with the help of others - to get Art galleries and Museums to remove the name and refuse Sackler Funding. 
  • However a number of Sackler developments actually predate any development and distribution of the drug (but "why let the truth get in the way of a good storey?"
  • Apparently the name is the issue for the protestors....
Due to Sackler’s untimely death, his widow went ahead with the project. The Sackler Wing of Galleries was named “Building of the Year 1992” by the Royal Institute of British Architects. (Sackler website)

It is, of course, a lot more complicated than that......
The Massachusetts lawsuit is only the latest against the company, which back in 2007 first pleaded guilty to misleading regulators, doctors, and patients about the addictive qualities of OxyContin.
This is what Goldin wants....

Goldin wants Sackler family members to put money into rehabilitation centers rather than art and academic philanthropy. She also wants museums to stop taking donations from the Sackler family and to stand with her campaign to expose pharmaceutical companies that made fortunes from opioids. (The Guardian)

Protests in London?

One is left to wonder whether the Sackler Galleries at the Royal Academy in London will face the same level of protest as the American institutions which have felt the wrath of Nan Goldin.

Goodness knows there's enough people in London who do love a good protest!  Preferably ones which involve drama, writing words somewhere they shouldn't and lying down.....

Time Piece - 4
Time Piece was the latest in a series of durational performances by Liberate Tate.
They create unsanctioned live art inside Tate spaces to 'free Tate from BP'.
(Source: Flickr)

The Bottom Line

Essentially the more strategic and wider-ranging thrust of the campaign is that:
  • all art museums and galleries should have an ethical and rigorous approach to sponsorship i.e. 
    • formulate clear criteria which have to be met by Sponsors 
    • test and validate the credentials of those who want to sponsor them against those criteria
    • refuse funding from those who don't meet all essential criteria
  • none should accept sponsorship from those who attempt to get social credits through spending money on the arts to offset damage done to people and the environment elsewhere.
When you put it like that it's very hard to disagree.

It's a laudable objective.

It needs to start happening - but I guess it only will happen when the Boards of such institutions take their responsibilities seriously.

I guess the next thing we'll be doing is debating giving back any donations to Museums in art form as well e.g. the Parthenon Marbles - because they were looted.

Do protests like this help? 
  • Not really if they are led by one very prominent individual - because they then look like the marketing machine for that individual in overdrive and it tends to prompts cyniciam and suspicion rather than support.
  • Yes - if they are well thought through and prompt support from a wider population (which generally means those who don't tend to like the "look at me" activities of a few).

Read more about BP Funding

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