Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Chapter 1 (Part 1): One Eli Broad Too Many, Or Not Enough?

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“Eli is not the problem. The problem is that we don’t have enough Elis in Los Angeles to balance out his generosity and the power of his influence.”[i]Ann Philbin, Director, Hammer Museum

A vestigial Victorian on Bunker Hill in 1966.

A vestigial Victorian on Bunker Hill in 1966.

Photographs of Los Angeles from fifty years ago capture an unfamiliar city. In the 1960s, downtown’s Bunker Hill was still occupied by a row of quiet Victorian houses. Since then, the Victorians have been cleared away and the city has experienced a population boom often illustrated as a mushroom cloud-shaped diagram, and now boasts a population of 9.86 million.[ii] While established in many ways, Los Angeles’s philanthropic culture is still in its infancy.  Despite ranking the second most populous city in America, the quantity of powerful philanthropists is insignificant at best.  Those who are active give to educational, environmental, health, and political causes.

The arts especially benefits from a small community of heavy-hitting philanthropists.  Also absent from the young metropolis are old money families with lineages of giving, in striking contrast to other cities like New York.  Another problem many (especially east-coasters) are quick to point a finger at is that Los Angeles’s native film industry and its Hollywood millionaires are largely uninvolved with the local art non- profits. This is beginning to change on both a superficial level, seen in the photos of MOCA and LACMA’s celebrity-attended galas, and on a more significant level with more Hollywood players joining the local art museums’ board: William Morris Endeavour super agent and CEO, Ari Emmanuel joined MOCA’s board last year;[iii] and last week, LACMA announced the addition of Brad Grey,[iv] president and CEO of Paramount Pictures, to its board.

Lady Gaga herself performs (on a Damien Hirst piano no less) with Francesco Vezzoli at a MOCA gala in 2009.

Lady Gaga herself performs (on a Damien Hirst piano no less) with Francesco Vezzoli at a MOCA gala in 2009.

There is also a deficiency of wealthy individuals personally and genuinely attached to the city’s long-term goals, in the arts or otherwise.  This adolescent philanthropic atmosphere, Eli Broad’s fortunes, enabled him to ascend to such powerful influence on the arts and cultural in the city he calls home.

Born in Detroit, Broad moved to Los Angeles in 1970 with his wife Edythe.  He made two fortunes with two Southern California companies: first in real estate development; he was the founder of Kaufman and Broad (now KB Homes), and his second fortune as C.E.O. of investment company SunAmerica (now a part of AIG). Broad, 80 years old, is ranked the world’s  191rd richest individual by Forbes and is worth an estimated $6.3 billion.[v]  Broad and his wife Edythe plan to give away the majority of this fortune during their lifetimes are signatories of the Warren Buffet Giving Pledge.[vi] On the Giving Pledge website, the Broads explain their charitable practice, which they call ‘venture philanthropy:’[vii]

We view our grants as investments, and we expect a return – in the form of improved student achievement for our education reform work, treatments or cures for disease in our scientific and medical research, and increased access to the arts.[viii]

To facilitate the Broads’ ‘venture philanthropy’ they established the Broad Foundations: an education foundation (focused on K-12 education), a science foundation (focused on genetics and stem-cell research), one for civic initiatives, and the Broad Art Foundation.  The Broad Art Foundation maintains a collection of international contemporary art, which it actively expands and lends for exhibition to art organizations around the world.  The lending of both the Foundation’s collection and the Broads’ personal collection is a strategy to achieve the Broads’ goal of making contemporary art accessible to the widest possible audience.

Much of the Broads’ giving to the arts is locally focused.  (The Broads also donated money for the construction of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University designed by Zaha Hadid.) Their giving to the arts in Los Angeles includes: $23 million to UCLA to built the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center, $10 million to Santa Monica City College for a performing arts programming endowment; more than $50 million to LACMA (including money for the construction of BCAM), where Eli Broad is a life trustee; more than $30 million to MOCA, where Eli Broad was the founding chairman in 1979 and is a life trustee; $5 million to built Walt Disney Concert Hall – Broad also helped fundraise an additional $100 million from individuals for the Frank Gehry-design landmark; and $6 million for a production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Los Angeles Opera.[ix]

Eli Broad himself at the MOCA New gala in 2009.

Eli Broad himself at the MOCA New gala in 2009.

Broad’s self-identified, long-term goal is to cultivate his adopted city of Los Angeles into an international art capital.  No one asked Eli Broad to do this, and no one said he had to do it alone.  Despite Broad’s proclamation in an LA Times Op-Ed title “Saving MOCA” that, “This is not a one-philanthropist town,”[x] the evidence would strongly suggest otherwise (at least in arts and culture).  When a system of mono-philanthropy is imposed on a city, especially one as large as Los Angeles, the effects are significant and long-lasting. By examining several cases I will illustrate how Eli Broad’s philanthropic contributions have exceeded beyond donating funds for buildings and endowments.  I will demonstrate how Eli Broad’s ‘venture philanthropy’ has altered the very missions of the organizations he has chosen to give to.  I will not argue whether or not these changes are beneficial or detrimental, and I do not suggest that Eli Broad’s intentions are sinister. His intentions are just that, his own intentions.  This style of philanthropy can be risky for the institutions that accept it, especially those ill-prepared to play ball with Broad the notorious micromanager.  On a larger scale, this is also risky also for the city that unquestioningly accepts this generosity, often complicated and tethered by many strings attached.


[i] Jennifer Steinhauer, “Iron Checkbook Shapes Culture of Los Angeles,” New York Times, February 7, 2010.
[ii] 2008 Census.
[iii] Joelle Katz, “WME’s Ari Emanuel Joins MOCA Board and Helps Launch MOCAtv,” The Hollywood Reporter, October 3, 2012.
[iv] Degen Pener, Paramount Pictures’ Brad Grey Joins LACMA as Trustee,” The Hollywood Reporter, June 19, 2013.
[v] Eli Broad,” Forbes.com, http://www.forbes.com/profile/eli-broad.
[vi] Eli and Edythe Broad,” GivingPledge.org, givingpledge.org/#eli+and+edythe+_broad.
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Catrin Einhorn, Baden S. Copeland and Jennifer Steinhauer, “The Reach of Eli Broad in Los Angels, New York Time Online, February 4, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/02/04/arts/20100204-Broad.html.
[x] Eli Broad, “Saving MOCA,” Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2008.

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