Louvre removes Sackler name amid controversy over opioid crisis

Stephane de Sakutin | Activists of P.A.I.N. and of French NGO Aides hold a banner reading "Take down the Sackler name" in front of the Pyramid of the Louvre museum, on July 1, 2019 in Paris.

Paris's Louvre Museum has become the first major cultural institution to remove the Sackler family name from its premises after protests against the family blamed for the deadly opioid crisis in the United States.


A prominent sign bearing the Sackler family’s name has been removed from the walls of the Louvre's Oriental Antiquities wing, with only the holes and outline remaining.

Tape has been put over other plaques in the rooms to mask every mention of the Sackler name. All references to Sackler have also been deleted from the museum’s website.

“The Theresa and Mortimer Sackler foundation supported the refurbishment of rooms housing Persian and Levantine art in the period from 1996 to 1997. Since then, there has been no other donation from the Sackler family. On October 10, 2003, the museum board decided to limit the duration of named rooms to 20 years. This donation is more than 20 years old, the name period is therefore legally closed and these rooms no longer carry the Sackler name,” said the Louvre in a statement issued on July 17.

The Louvre museum's president, Jean-Luc Martinez, told French radio station RTL that there is a 20-year limit on naming rights and the Sackler donation for the wing was in 1997. He did not explain why it had taken more than two years to remove the signs.

Martinez would also not reveal exactly when the name had been removed. However, it is thought to have been covered up when the wing was closed to visitors for a few days in the second week of July.

The move follows protests on July 1 led by the activist Nan Goldin, a former opioid addict, demanding the Sackler name be removed from the Louvre over accusations the family has profited from their company's highly addictive painkiller Oxycontin.

Deadly opiate crisis

Members of the Sackler family own Purdue Pharma, which is facing some 2,000 lawsuits in the US over its role in the opioid crisis that has claimed 400,000 lives in the last 20 years.

Purdue Pharma is accused of pushing the medical profession to prescribe high doses of its flagship drug while being aware of its addictive effects.

The drug is reported to have directly contributed to Americans’ growing dependence on opiates and pushed consumers towards stronger drugs such as fentanyl and heroin.

In 2017, nearly 50,000 people died in the US as a result of overdosing on opioids including prescription drugs, heroin and fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The Sackler brothers Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond, who founded a predecessor to Purdue Pharma in 1952, were dedicated patrons to some of the world’s most important museums, including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, UK’s National Gallery and the Louvre in Paris.

“For more than half a century, several generations of Sacklers have supported respected institutions that play crucial roles in health, research, education, the arts and the humanities,” a spokesman for the Mortimer and Raymond Sackler family members said in a statement in March. “It has been a privilege to support the vital work of these organisations and we remain dedicated to doing so.”

Following a string of demonstrations in the US, Goldin and the activist group she founded, P.A.I.N. (Pain Addiction Intervention Now), staged a protest in the French capital. Standing in front of the Louvre’s glass pyramid, they held a giant banner saying "Take Down The Sackler Name".

“We demand that the Louvre rename the Sackler wing and commit to refusing any criminal donations in the future,” the group said in a statement shared on Instagram. “The opioid crisis has also hit France, through the actions of the same pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma via Mundipharma, its international branch, also owned by the Sackler family.”

‘Direct action works’

Speaking to the New York Times after the Louvre's decision to remove the Sackler name, Goldin said: "I think it happened due to our protests. It shows direct action works."

Goldin acknowledged that, due to contracts, many other museums could not follow the Louvre’s example. But she said she hoped they would find ethical ways of accepting donations. “I know that the museums, especially in America, have enormous trouble being funded and it’s so important museums stay open,” she said. “But museums are also about ethics and morality.”

In recent months, museums such as London's Tate and National Portrait Gallery, along with New York’s Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum have all said they will no longer accept Sackler money.

As a result of the growing protest movement -- and the controversy now attached to their name -- the Sackler Trust has frozen new donations.

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