One of the things many rich people love to do is pretend to give away their money. I say “pretend,” because families like the Sacklers, the family behind Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin, aren’t donating so much as buying—forking over large sums of the money they’ve made selling poison for things like having their name on wings of museums or college acceptances for their underwhelming kids.
The solution to this is very simple: Do not take their money. Today, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art joined a growing list of museums who are divesting from the family’s influence and plaque-buying. In announcing the move, Daniel Weiss, president of the Met, said the decision is about what’s in “the public interest.”
“The museum takes a position of gratitude and respect to those who support us, but on occasion, we feel it’s necessary to step away from gifts that are not in the public interest, or in our institution’s interest,” Weiss told the New York Times. “That is what we’re doing here.”
Good. But the Met should go further—it’s disgrace that the Sackler name appears anywhere in the building. In an ideal world, cultural institutions would be funded by public money extracted from the soulless rich by aggressive wealth and estate taxes, ridding them of the need to debase themselves for cash, but we do not live in that world.
For now, stripping the Sacklers and their ilk—a board member at the Whitney, for instance, runs a mercenary-training and tear gas company—of their ability to make themselves feel better about their sins by buying pretty things for other people to look at—feels like the least our institutions can do. They can still buy all the yachts they want, but we don’t need to launder their money for dignity, no matter the price.