Dhe business model of the American Sackler family worked very well for a long time, at least for themselves. Part of the billions that the family around the deceased patriarch Raymond Sackler earned with their company Purdue Pharma flowed into the promotion of education, art and culture. Around the world, Sackler grand pianos have appeared in major museums and Sackler libraries in the world’s top universities. In the UK alone, the family donated £80million in 2019.
This put aside how Purdue made its money from selling the highly addictive opioid Oxycontin. For example, the Sacklers were instrumental in the serious drug crisis in the United States, where half a million people died from drug overdoses. In 2019, the company led by Richard Sackler filed for bankruptcy. In 2020, Purdue pleaded guilty to knowingly inducing addiction. In March 2022, the Sacklers agreed to a settlement: $6 billion should flow into addiction help, in return for which the family would be immune from future civil claims.
Lots of renaming
The more attention the role of the Sacklers recently received, the more the other side of their family business model is falling apart. This week, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London announced that the Sackler Center for Art Education and the Sackler Square in front of the museum are to be renamed. These are new tones from the V&A. Museum director Tristram Hunt had defended the relationship with the Sacklers three years ago. “We will not remove names and deny the past,” he said at the time. The museum has received strong support from the Sacklers, and the family is reflecting on their wrongdoing.
Now the V&A is giving in, following the lead of other famous museums. The Louvre in Paris had already renamed its Sackler wing in July 2021, the Metropolitan Museum in New York followed in December, and the name of the Sackler gallery in London’s Tate Museum had to give way in February. Little by little, the philanthropic legacy with which the Sacklers wanted to preserve their reputation for posterity is falling apart.
The entrepreneurial family has also tried to immortalize itself in Germany. There was a Sackler staircase in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. But the name has since disappeared. In 2020, the sign referring to the Sacklers’ donation was removed, a spokesman for the FAS says. Today, the staircase is instead called “staircase at the end of the Axis of Continuity”.