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Sackler Trust suspends all new UK donations amid opioid allegations

The Globe the Old Vic the Royal Court and the National Theatre are among the arts organiations that have received grants from the Sackler Trust
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The Sackler Trust, which has donated millions of pounds to arts institutions including the National Theatre, the Royal Court and Shakespeare’s Globe, has announced it is suspending all future UK grants amid a growing controversy surrounding the philanthropic organisation.

Members of the Sackler family, which runs the trust, also own the US pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, makers of the controversial opioid painkiller OxyContin. Purdue Pharma is facing hundreds of lawsuits in the US over claims the drug is contributing to America’s opioid crisis.

Last week, the National Portrait Gallery became the first major UK arts organisation to reject money from the trust, and was swiftly followed by the Tate and South London Gallery.

Now, the trust has said its philanthropic giving in the UK will temporarily cease until the situation surrounding Purdue Pharma is such that “it will not be a distraction for institutions that are applying for grants”.

Chairwoman Theresa Sackler said in a statement: “I am deeply saddened by the addiction crisis in America and support the actions Purdue Pharma is taking to help tackle the situation, while still rejecting the false allegations made against the company and several members of the Sackler family.

“The current press attention that these legal cases in the United States are generating has created immense pressure on the scientific, medical, educational and arts institutions here in the UK, large and small, that I am so proud to support. This attention is distracting them from the important work that they do.”

She said existing commitments would be honoured.

The trust said it has given more than £60 million to British institutions since 2010 across a range of areas, while the Sackler family’s name adorns buildings such as the National Theatre’s Sackler Pavilion, the Sackler education studios at the Globe, the Sackler Centre for arts education and the Sackler Courtyard at the V&A, and Sadler’s Wells’ Sackler meeting room.

The Royal Court received funding from the trust for its trainee scheme, employing five trainees in different departments across the theatre. The Royal Court received £700,000 from the trust in 2017, according to the most recent public records, while other major beneficiaries in that year included the Old Vic (£300,000), the NT (£250,000), Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts (£150,000), and Alexandra Palace, which was given £500,000 for a new creative learning zone which is due to open this year.

In a statement provided before the Sackler Trust’s announcement regarding its future UK donations, a spokesman for Alexandra Palace said the grant “contributes significantly to our charitable purposes and our stated priorities and will enable Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust to deliver significant charitable impact and public benefit in the future”.

He added that the grant “satisfies all relevant APPCT policy and regulator guidance”.

When contacted by The Stage before the suspension of the Sackler Trust’s UK donations, the National Theatre said it could not comment on the specifics of the situation. However, it said it abided by the UK fundraising regulator’s code, adding: “The support we receive from individuals, foundations and corporate organisations allow us to deliver a wide range of projects to enrich people’s lives in London, across the UK and internationally.”

The Old Vic said it was continually reviewing its donations acceptance policy, while the Royal Court and the Globe had not commented at the time of publication.

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