V&A drops Sackler name over ties to US opioid crisis

V&A Museum - View Pictures/Universal Images
V&A Museum - View Pictures/Universal Images

The V&A Museum has dropped the Sackler name following pressure to cut ties with donors whose wealth has been linked to the opioid crisis in the US.

A string of UK cultural institutions that had previously benefited from Sackler donations, including the British Museum and the National Gallery, distanced themselves from these benefactors after the family’s now bankrupt company Purdue Pharma became embroiled in controversies over its addictive painkiller OxyContin.

The V&A was the final major UK institution to retain the Sackler name, but the museum has now dropped it.

Key parts of its London site named in honour of the museum’s donors, including the Sackler Courtyard and the Sackler Centre for Arts Education, will have their names changed. No replacement has been confirmed.

Signage taken down

The Observer reported that signage directing visitors to these sites has been taken down.

A museum spokesperson said: “The V&A and the family of the late Dr Mortimer D Sackler have mutually agreed the V&A’s Centre for Arts Education and its Exhibition Road courtyard will no longer carry the Sackler name.”

While the Sacklers are well-known patrons of the arts, Purdue Pharma, which was founded by the family, has faced lawsuits over opioid deaths in the US. Concerns over its painkiller OxyContin have prompted campaigners to pressure UK arts organisations to cut ties with the Sacklers.

The V&A’s decision to remove the name comes after director Tristram Hunt had stated that the museum would not purge the names of controversial donors from its sites in response to the scandal, saying in 2019: “We are not going to be taking names down or denying the past.”

International removals of the name

In 2019 the Louvre museum in Paris removed the Sackler name, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York followed suit.

In 2022, the National Portrait Gallery in London took similar measures to remove the name, and was followed by the Tate, the British Museum, and the National Gallery. This was done in cooperation with the family’s UK charities, including the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation.

A spokeswoman for the museum has thanked the family for its donations, stating: “Dame Theresa Sackler was a trustee of the V&A between 2011 and 2019, and we are immensely grateful for her service to the V&A over the years. We have no current plans to rename the spaces.”

Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have denied any wrongdoing.