Two major British arts institutions have revealed that they have rejected grants from the Sackler family amid the controversy over its alleged links to the US opioid crisis.
The Roundhouse and the Donmar Warehouse both turned down money that had been awarded to them by the now-mothballed Sackler Trust, the family’s philanthropic organisation.
These revelations come after the trust’s newly published 2018 accounts show the organisations to which the trust had pledged money last year, while the Sackler-owned Purdue Pharma was already facing increasing criticism over its manufacturing of the opioid painkiller OxyContin.
The Young Vic, the Old Vic and LIFT accepted their awards from the trust, which has given more than £60 million over the past decade to some of the UK’s biggest arts organisations including the National Theatre, the V&A and Shakespeare’s Globe.
However, the Roundhouse stopped short of receiving a pledge of £1 million, with the Donmar curtailing a three-year grant after receiving the first payout as scrutiny over the Sackler family intensified.
Both organisations told The Stage that their allocated 2018 donations from Sackler were already under review by their respective ethics committees when the trust announced in March that it would suspend making new grants in the UK because of the press attention and legal cases involving Purdue Pharma.
However, in both cases, the final decision to refuse the grants came after this event.
The Royal Court, Tate and the National Portrait Gallery are among the institutions that have already severed ties with the Sacklers.
Purdue Pharma was facing more than 2,000 lawsuits in the US, but last month the firm filed for bankruptcy, agreeing to dissolve the company and put up to $12 billion (£9.7 billion) towards settling the lawsuits.
The Roundhouse, which received £225,000 from Sackler in 2017, said the subsequent £1 million had been due to contribute to a planned new campus building.
A statement from the north London venue said it would be forced to “look at other funding streams and project timelines” to make up the shortfall, adding: “We are enormously grateful for the trust’s support over the years, but we have made a decision not to accept the donation at this time. To do so risks distracting from our work with young people, and that’s our priority.”
The trust had also pledged a three-year, £180,000 grant to the Donmar in 2018 for ongoing education work. The first £60,000 instalment was accepted by the theatre “to complete a programme of educational activity that had already been committed to “.
However, a statement from the venue added: “We have not received any further funds from the trust since 2018. Earlier this year the Donmar board made a decision to terminate the funding agreement prior to the next instalment becoming due.”
The statement said the theatre would “continue to find ways” to ensure its school and community work that would have been supported by the grant continued to happen, especially given the “extremely regrettable reduction in arts provision in UK schools”.
It pointed to the increasing reliance on philanthropy in UK culture, and said it is required to look to creative solutions to finance its work.
Purdue Pharma’s alleged association to the opioid epidemic was first reported in October 2017, after which the Sackler Trust went on to allocate its 2018 round of grants, which totalled £5.1 million.
In this round, the Young Vic received a £375,000 from the trust. A statement from the theatre said the grant was made “in support of our artistic programme and our work in the community delivered by Taking Part”.
“The Young Vic is not in conversation with the Sackler Trust about any further grants,” it added.
The Old Vic, which accepted £350,000 last year, has received donations from the trust since 2009 to support its schools club.
A statement from the theatre said: “We are currently midway through a multi-year grant in support of our flagship education programme, the Old Vic Schools Club, which works with 1,200 12 to 18-year-old students across 40 schools each year. We are dedicated to delivering this work until the end of the grant term and to honouring our commitment to those involved.”
LIFT received £150,000 in 2018. Its artistic director and chief executive, Kris Nelson, said: “This funding has been used to support our commissioning programme and we’ve been grateful for this support. It enables LIFT to invite international artists to make work bespoke to London. The funding also plays a role in our LIFT Tottenham programme, where we commission international artists to create performances with Tottenham young people and other locals.”
In 2018, the Sackler Trust also made £1.7 million of additional donations that were less than £150,000 each and so do not have to be listed individually in the accounts.
The Sackler Trust did not respond to a request for comment.