Major philanthropic gift behind new public cultural space in London

Major philanthropic gift behind new public cultural space in London


A listed building in Kensington Gardens that once contained munitions is to become a new free London gallery and cultural destination in time for the Olympics thanks to an act of philanthropy by the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation.

The Serpentine Gallery has been awarded a contract by the Royal Parks to create a new art space five minutes walk from its existing building, beating competition from two other bids – Damien Hirst and the Halcyon Gallery.  

Julia Peyton-Jones, the Serpentine's director, said she was "thrilled … beyond thrilled" at winning the lease.

The building, to be known as the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, will be fully renovated by Pritzker Prize winning architect Zaha Hadid, to house the best new international talents from the worlds of art and beyond. Plans include an adjoining pavilion to be used as a social space and restaurant, creating a permanent architectural landmark in the heart of London.

Although it declined to give a figure, the gallery described the gift as 'a major donation' and as the largest in its 40 year history.

The Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation has funded many cultural projects since its inception in 1988 including the National Gallery, the V&A, the Natural History Museum, the Old Vic, the Royal Opera House and the National Gallery of Scotland.

A foundation spokesperson said: “The foundation has an association with the Serpentine Gallery, funding its education centre, and we wanted to continue that support with the funding of this new gallery. Though this is not a response to the cuts in the arts, we are well aware of the issues cultural institutions face now.

The foundation is run by family members since the death of its founder, neurologist and biochemist Dr Mortimer Sackler, in March this year and continues its philanthropic support of the arts, education, science and medical research.

Dr Sackler, a New York Jew of mostly Russian origin, became a philanthropist ‘to repay’ the country which gave him his career, his wife Theresa explained in a newspaper article.

Dr Sackler had in the mid-1930s found it impossible, in an atmosphere of anti-Semitism, to gain a place in a New York medical school. Through friends in the long-established Jewish community in Glasgow, he was welcomed to stay with them and attend the (still mostly) non-residential University, which enabled him to go on to the Middlesex Hospital, where he graduated MD in 1944.

He returned to New York, and in 1950 became a co-founder and Associate Director of the Creedmoor Institute for Psychobiologic Studies. With his brother Raymond he established pharmaceutical research, manufacturing and distributing companies in Austria, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

Sackler's philanthropies in the UK, often in tandem with his brothers, Arthur and Raymond, include the Sackler Library, Oxford University, and the Ashmolean Research Centre for the Humanities; the Sackler Laboratories, Reading University; the Sackler Musculoskeletal Research Centre, University College, London; the Sackler Institute of Pulmonary Pharmacology and the King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry. The Sackler generosity to the arts has also been significant in New York and Paris.

Colin Tweedy, chief executive, of Arts&Business, that aims to facilitate cooperation between the arts and the private sectors, said of the gift: “It is greatly heartening to see a project like the Serpentine Sackler Gallery take shape. The combination of the Serpentine Gallery with its track record of innovation and the timely giving of the Sackler Foundation is a model for success and a sharp example of the need and value of philanthropy.