Exhibition Inquisition

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

Chapter 3 (Part 6): Private Collector Museum Conclusions

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“If you look at history, too many great collections ended up in storage and not being shown.”[i] – Eli Broad

The Great Tactician.

The Great Tactician.

Eli Broad, like Alice Walton, the Fishers and George Lucas, has a long history with the city in which he practices his “venture philanthropy.” Broad was not born in Los Angeles, but like the Fishers in San Francisco, he has a long involved history with existing arts and cultural institutions. He has sat and currently sits on the boards of many art museums. Like the Fishers, Lucas and Walton, his decision to build a museum to house his art collection is motivated (partially) by his commitment to his city. But Broad is also doing something in addition to what the Fishers, Lucas and Walton did with their museums; he is utilizing his museum project as leverage for further economic growth. Sure Walton sees Crystal Bridges as having a positive economic effect on Bentonville, but there is nothing in Bentonville: Crystal Bridges is the local economy. Broad is building his museum, not in a rural city, but in the second-most highly populated city in America. Los Angeles already has the strongest brand of any city in the world, and an existing diversified economy. Sure, part of Los Angeles’ economy depend on arts and culture, but it arguably has plenty of existing organizations and venues. If Eli Broad had attempted to build his museum in a place like San Francisco, he might have come up against more public opposition as did the Fishers and Lucas.

The financing of these public-private investment partnerships should also be compared. Walton acquired an art collection and developed the museum with her own (and her family foundation’s) funds. The public investment of Crystal Bridges largely came in the form of tax breaks, which were developed specifically to benefit her museum. So while the City of Bentonville did not concede any funds for Crystal Bridges, the State of Arkansas certainly did not benefit from the taxation on the construction of the new museum.

The Fisher example is similar to Broad in several ways. The Fishers have provided SFMOMA (an existing public institution) with funding for a new building to house their collections, operating under the assumption that the art will eventually (after 100 years?) be permanently donated to the museum. Similarly Eli Broad provided funds to LACMA for the BCAM building, with LACMA assuming the building assured the donation of the Broad collections. Broad didn’t even wait for BCAM to open to let LACMA know they would not be getting his collection. By comparison, SFMOMA’s 100-year-long loan seems gracious. But can even this be considered a sure thing? And is it fair for public institutions to have to raise and spend monumental amounts of funds to satisfy their ends of the deals they have made with philanthropists?

The Lucas Cultural Arts Museum has been widely reported as a $700 million project, all coming Lucas’s wallet. What isn’t mentioned is what the City of San Francisco is contributing to the public-private investment. If the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum proposal for Crissy Field had been chosen by the Presidio Trust the land would have been provided by the City or rented to Lucas, but no lease agreement was ever widely reported. Now the City is fumbling all over itself trying to offer Lucas other locations in a desperate plea to keep Lucas from taking his museum project, and billion-dollar collection, to Chicago. Yesterday it was announced that Mayor Ed Lee had given Lucas tours of Seawall Lot 330 a nice little piece of real estate along the Embarcadero that the Golden State Warriors were going to develop, as well as a tour of the contentious Piers 30-32, where up until last month the Warriors were planning to build their stunning Snohetta-designed basketball stadium. How much should the City charge Lucas for a long-term lease on either of these sites? The typical $1 for 100 years? Not in San Francisco. How come all of a sudden Piers 30-32 are a good location for the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum, but not for the Golden State Warriors Stadium? The NIMBY’s aren’t going to like Lucas’s museum either. The competition between Chicago and San Francisco that Lucas has orchestrated is exactly what Eli Broad did when he played Santa Monica and Beverly Hills against the City of Los Angeles so that he could get a better deal and the Downtown location he really wanted for his museum. I respect the Presidio Trust for not bowing to that kind of pressure; they didn’t say no to Lucas’s proposal just because it was ugly.

Will development taxes from redevelopment like the Arquitectonica-design building (background) help fund the Broad (foreground)?

Will taxes from redevelopment construction like the Arquitectonica-design building (background) help fund the Broad (foreground)?

Eli Broad is even cleverer than the rest. It is speculated that Broad will engage in the same strategies that enabled the creation of MOCA on Grand Avenue in the 1980s. Back then Broad cleverly consolidated the tax revenue generated in the massive redevelopment of Bunker Hill under the 1% tax for arts program. These consolidated tax funds, which might have been spent on less-than amazing public art commissions, were instead used to partially found MOCA. This is yet another testament to Eli Broad’s investment ingenuity. Especially now that the Community Redevelopment Agency has been dissolved, Eli Broad may pressure the City to use 1% for art tax revenues from the future redevelopment of Grand Avenue to fund the Broad museum. The Grand Avenue Project was once estimated to cost $3 billion. One percent of $3 billion is $30 million—that might be channeled in the Broad over the course of the unknown years Grand Avenue is being redeveloped.[ii]

(Tax) Cash flow: from The Grand (bottom) to the Broad (upper left).

(Tax) Cash flow: from The Grand (bottom) to the Broad (upper left).

The dynamism of the public-private investment, while complicated in the cases of the Fishers, Lucas and Walton, reaches vertiginous levels of obfuscation in the case of Eli Broad and the financing of his new museum.

These trends are on the rise, and this is why public-private investments, in my focus art museums, should be scrutinized. These issues and cases are important to explore as arts administrators: If our financial supporters are increasingly interested in engaging in complicated partnerships rather than outright gifts, then we must adapt. As I mentioned in the introduction to this thesis: that the public must take full ownership of their own agency in these public-private partnerships, so too must we as arts administrators take ownership of our agency and our roles in the negotiations of these public-private investments. Increasingly involved supporters (private collectors) of our causes should not hinder us from achieving our missions; this is an opportunity to engage with donors and supporters, to further educate and inform them, using them more strategically, so that through these public-investments we can increase, maximize, and optimize the benefits we offer and contribute to the public.


[i] Mike Boehm, “The Grand Plan for the Broad museum,” Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2011.
[ii] Carol Vogel, “Boon for Broad Museum: Millions From Developers,” New York Times, August 2, 2010.

One Response

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  1. Sing it, girl! Tax evasion repackaged as creative tax strategies by billionaires at the expensive of the public even extends to the art world. Don’t think you’ll make a lot of friends at the Broad Foundation with this, though…


    May 17, 2014 at 10:10 AM

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