Over the weekend, a new development in the ongoing Sackler family saga stoked fresh ire amongst those who feel that the well-moneyed clan has been doing everything it can to avoid accepting personal responsibility for the opioid crisis. On Sunday evening, Purdue Pharma officially filed for bankruptcy in the wake of its previous offer, which was to settle the thousands of lawsuits against the company with a payout totaling between $10 and 12 billion. Reportedly, the bankruptcy filing will serve as a block between Purdue and the thousands of plaintiffs who want cash from the behemoth—everyone seeking justice from the company will evidently now have to wade through the layered bureaucracies of bankruptcy court.
In the same weekend, the New York state attorney’s general filed papers that claimed the Sacklers had used hidden accounts and shady trusts to transfer $1 billion to themselves over the years. “While the Sacklers continue to lowball victims and skirt a responsible settlement, we refuse to allow the family to misuse the courts in an effort to shield their financial misconduct,” attorney general Letitia James said in a statement. “The limited number of documents provided to us so far underscore the necessity for compliance with every subpoena.” The increasing scrutiny of Purdue Pharma’s responsibility for the opioid crisis has had far-reaching effects—many arts institutions and philanthropic causes to which the Sacklers have been donors have had to question not only their dealings with those linked to Purdue in the future, but also what to do with the galleries or wings that have been named after members of the family involved in the crisis.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery in London and the Louvre in Paris are all museums that have all benefitted financially from members of the Sackler family with ties to Purdue, and that’s just to name a few. The point is not to admonish art museums for ever taking (ample) Sackler money. Rather, it feels important, going forward, to ask questions about how the fall of the Sacklers might influence the methods by which artistic organizations evaluate the types of donor funding they accept in the future. No museum wants another PR disaster the size of Warren Kanders or the Sacklers their hands, which means that museum employees will likely be burdened with looking deeper into the backgrounds of potential philanthropists before an exchange can be made.
Photographer Nan Goldin is just one significant figure speaking out about the Sacklers’ role in the spread of opioid-related deaths (she has yet to respond to Observer’s request for an interview). But by advocating vehemently in support of industry reform, Goldin and her anti-opioid collective, P.A.I.N., have made it less and less acceptable for unsavory figures to move about untethered in high society. Goldin’s work is sorely needed, and also in sore need of support across the entire global arts community. Hopefully someday soon, support from people like the Purdue Pharma-affiliated Sacklers won’t factor into the art world’s survival at all.