Institutions should welcome philanthropy, even if the donor has ethically dubious ways of making their money, writes Sam Leith.
When the whole opioid crisis blew up, the Sackler family — whose fortune was substantially built on getting thousands of Americans debilitatingly addicted to OxyContin — withdrew for a period from their charitable giving. It was reported yesterday, though, that they're back in the philanthropy business, and last year gave £3.5 million to various British causes — among them the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, the Watermill Theatre, King’s College, London, the homelessness charity Amber Foundation, various churches, academies and conservation projects. 'The return of the Sacklers to philanthropy in the UK,' the report stated confidently, 'will cause outrage'. Really?
I remember being similarly perplexed when green campaigners were protesting about the National Portrait Gallery being sponsored by BP. It was outrageous, they said, that this vile fossil fuel company should be allowed to give away its money to a British art gallery. The artist Gary Hume said that the need for arts funding was 'outweighed by the need to act urgently on the climate crisis'. That was a point of view, I suppose — and his argument that the gallery accepting the donations helped to 'launder the oil industry’s image' had something to it. But it seemed a nose-to-spite-face position to take...Keep reading on The Spectator.