Friday, October 23, 2020

The Continuing Saga of Sackler Embarrassment for Art Galleries and Museums

Remember the protests against the Sackler Family relating to the Opioid Crisis around about a year ago? Many were led by Nan Goldin -- and included a die-in at the V&A and a threat to NOT exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery if they accepted a £1million gift from the Sackler Family

There are news reports that Purdue Pharma is to close and be reinvented as a new "public benefit company" controlled by a trust or similar entity.
Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has agreed to plead guilty to three federal criminal charges for its role in creating the nation's opioid crisis and will pay more than $8 billion and close down the company.
Pat on the back for Nan Goldin and other protestors I think....

References on my Facebook Page to the Opioid / Sackler scandal went as follows:
More protests at sponsors of the arts with a shady past (and present?) . This time Nan Goldin has arrived to protest the Sackler Courtyard at the V&A (re. Opioid scandal and deaths in the US + associated court cases against Sackler)
Extremely odd interview of Nan Goldin on Channel 4
Channel 4 Interviewer "but where are they going to get the funds from?"
Nan Goldin "they don't need more architecture"
Channel 4 Interviewer "but where are they going to get the funds from?"
Nan Goldin "they don't need more architecture"
+ about 2-3 times more at which point I despaired of the Channel 4 ever employing people who listen to the answer.
Artist Nan Goldin leads die-in at V&A over use of Sackler name
I predicted earlier this week that Nan Goldin would "hit" the art sponsorship connections in London - and guess what....

"The National Portrait Gallery will be forced to turn down a gift of £1m from members of the multibillionaire Sackler family if it goes ahead with a prestigious new exhibition of the work of US artist Nan Goldin."
Nan Goldin threatens London gallery boycott over £1m gift from Sackler fund

Some of you may recall that there was a lot of removal of the Sackler name from very many buildings, art galleries

The Sackler Name

My understanding is that some Sackler names are associated with the potential for criminal charges and others are not - or less so. 

For example, the Elizabeth A. Sackler - whose name is on the Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museumhas distanced her branch of the family from her uncles and cousins and called their OxyContin wealth ‘morally abhorrent’.

It's quite difficult to find an analysis of this.....  It's also not helpful by lazy journalists referring to funders as "The Sackler Family" - without identifying which of the five trusts is responsible
The deal does not release any of the company’s executives or owners – members of the wealthy Sackler family – from criminal liability. A criminal investigation is ongoing. OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma to plead guilty to three criminal charges
accuses Sackler family members of knowingly breaking laws in order to enrich themselves to the tune of billions of dollars, while hundreds of thousands of Americans died.
While the guilty plea was welcomed, there was also anger over the US justice department’s failure to prosecute executives
AND SO....
  • which are the Sackler names now in the frame for potential criminal liability? (see above)
  • when is the Sackler name to be removed from all endowed gifts funded by Oxycontin abuse?
  • Or are the organisations going to wait until actual criminal liability is established? (as opposed to the company accepting responsibility and closing down?)
I think the problem is that "Sackler" is the shorthand - and the distinctions between who's in the mire and who is not is opaque in the extreme
Members of the Sackler family withdrew more than $10 billion from Purdue Pharma and put the money in family trusts as the company faced legal challenges related to its role in the nation's opioid epidemic, according to court documents.
"OxyContin maker to plead guilty to federal criminal charges, pay $8 billion, and will close the company"| CNN
However those Sackler Trusts have been funding a number of endowments to various institutions around the world.
The Sacklers had triumphed once again – as they had done at the Tate, the National Gallery, the Serpentine, Kew Gardens, the Museum of London, the Ashmolean and other institutions, all of which have named galleries, wings, escalators, scientific bodies, bridges and rooms after them. And that’s just in the UK; the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York both have their own Sackler Wings, and Berlin’s Jewish Museum has a Sackler Staircase.
Inside the Sackler Scandal
The Sackler name is prominently displayed among key donors at many British arts institutions and has been behind hefty financial support for many more. From the Royal Opera House, National Gallery, National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal Ballet School, Tate, Old Vic and the Royal College of Art, to smaller institutions, such as the Serpentine, Royal Court, Museum of London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Design Museum, the Courtauld and the Roundhouse venue. Nan Goldin threatens London gallery boycott over £1m gift from Sackler fund
Below are some examples of organisations that are linked to the Sackler name and funding

Funding declined

Name removed

No action to date

11.07.18 | Court.
Photo by Neil Williams

As a registered charity, and an independent organisation that receives no revenue funding from government, the generosity of trusts and foundations is hugely important for the Royal Academy.
Serpentine Sackler Gallery
Sackler Crossing
Photo by diamond geezer

The Bottom Line

For me the issue is the quality of the Ethical Standards and Due Diligence Practices of the various organisations in relation to vetting their donors - and activities of the donors.
few institutions seem concerned that the money they have received may be tied, in some way, to a family fortune partly built on the sale of opioids.
The New York Times surveyed 21 cultural organizations listed on tax forms as having received significant sums from foundations run by two Sackler brothers who led Purdue. Several, including the Guggenheim, declined to comment; others, like the Brooklyn Museum, ignored questions. None indicated that they would return donations or refuse them in the future.
When we have an art market which is riddled with money which is being laundered, in my opinion ANY organisation seeking charitable funds cannot be too careful. 

The same might be said for any organisation associated with allegations of inappropriate or unethical behaviour - or they could find their building boycotted.

I think the art galleries and museums have made a rod for their own back because of the rather lackadaisical approach to "due diligence" by many of them (i.e. which might be characterised as it's "all about the art" and not about the business end).

This is a VERY BIG LESSON in the critical need to have VERY HIGH ETHICAL standards relating to all donations or endowments which are PUBLISHED (and available to view on every website) which can then guide any action which needs taking PLUS
  • rigorous due diligence and compliance with the standards; and 
  • independent audit of same.
In terms of the way forward:
  • a very clear distinction needs to be made for all relevant Trustees - and the public - between
    • treatment with respect to past and future funding
    • funding awarded by opioid and non-opioid Sacklers
  • an appropriate way forward now needs to be determined. I find it interesting that the Louvre obviously takes a very different perspective to some organisations in the UK.
    • some organisations are obviously in an invidious place because they have had capital funds for actual constructions (eg the Sackler Staircase in the Jewish Museum in Berlin) - so all they can talk about is whether or not the name survives.
    • others are in receipt of revenue funding - which in my opinion they can and should at the very least be suspended if it comes from Trusts run by those in the frame for criminal charges
“In 2002 we were not aware that OxyContin is subject to misuse. Returning the donation would also not be an option because we would have to use public funds to do that. We also feel that renaming [the Sackler Staircase] would be an inappropriate attempt to disguise what happened. It would contradict the fact that we acted in good faith in 2002.” Berlin's Jewish Museum will no longer accept donations from the Sackler Trust

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