Eli Broad enters the inner sanctum of his office in an art-filled suite precisely on time for his tightly-scheduled meeting. It’s the day after the Los Angeles City Council has approved his Grand Avenue Development project and clearly life is busy for the businessman turned full-time philanthropist. Broad, alongside a who’s-who list of collaborators that includes architect Frank Gehry, is spearheading the multi-billion-dollar effort to revitalize Downtown L.A. and finally the green light has been given.
It’s all in a day’s work for Broad. Beyond Grand Avenue, he and wife Edythe have generously created and endowed a swath of arts and science institutes and laboratories across the United States.They are the founders of The Broad Foundation, which states as its mission “to dramatically improve K- 12 urban public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition.”
“I was raised in a socially conscious working class family in Detroit,” Broad explains about the origins of his conscious decision to begin giving back to the community years ago. He continues to state simply that his ability to give stems from the fact that he “did well in commerce.”
This is perhaps the interview’s grandest understatement.After graduating Michigan State University in 1954, Broad became the youngest certified public accountant in Michigan history. He would eventually move west, enjoying phenomenal success as the founder of two For tune 500 companies, KB Home and SunAmerica Inc.
And yet, despite his astounding success in the business world, family has always come first for this son of Lithuanian immigrants.“Once I had taken care of my family—and that was my priority—I had more resources than I needed,” he explains. “When you have more than you need, then it’s time to give back.”
And give back the Broads did. In Southern California, they’ve made pos- sible the very hallmarks of L.A. culture—LACMA, MOCA and Disney Hall, to name a few. Broad, a member of the Board of Trustees at the California Institute of Technology, endowed a Broad Center there. On the East Coast, Broad gave $100 million in 2003 to fund The Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts—a part- nership with Harvard and MIT—and another $100 million in 2005 to further the Broad
Institute’s study of human genomics. Broad is a venture philanthropist, a term he coined that fits his proactive philanthropic giving. “I am a civic and social entrepreneur,” he says. “Everything we do is aimed at creating things that did not exist before. We create organizations and institutes. Our gifts make a difference.”
So how does this connoisseur and developer want to be remembered? “LACMA,” he answers without hesitation.“In my opinion, it is the second most important encyclopedic museum in America. Did you know it has more land than the Metropolitan [Museum of Art in New York City]? LACMA’s collections include works from Korea, Japan, Latin America, as well as modern and contemporary art created by artists from all over the world. It is not just about the gifts we made, or even Renzo’s plans for the new facade and the new entrance pavilion, or our new building.” He is referring to the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, scheduled to open in February 2008. “The new director, Michael Govan, has energized the trustees and is rebuild- ing a new board. He’s reaching out to all communities.”
“Eli is not only a successful entrepreneur but deep within him is a desire to improve conditions in Los Angeles,” says Rabbi Allen Freeling, Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission since 2002 and a friend of the Broads for 30 years.“Eli wants to bring L.A. into the future. I think his whole concept of giving back to the community is an extension of his notion of family, of giving to his children and to the children of Los Angeles—the future generations who will live and grow up here.”
For those who know and work with him, Broad’s enthusiasm is the reason for his success.“What makes Eli’s visual arts philanthropy special is the energy he brings to the table,” says Joanne Heyler, Director of the The Broad Art Foundation. “His dedication and sense of responsibility are tireless. He’s the only person I know who is trying to change philanthropy in L.A. on the macro level. Even beyond the dollar amounts of the gifts he and Edythe give to cultural institutions in L.A.—which are crucial and extraordinary—his sense of civic responsibility is his primary gift to the city. I think that inspiring a new gener- ation of peers to support Los Angeles as a cultural capital will be his proud- est accomplishment.”
And how does the public figure into his philanthropic calculus? This is the only time in the interview that Broad’s responsive rhythm breaks.“The public is the beneficiary of every project we underwrite,” he says. “Our giving allows the public a broader view of society and an opportunity to educate themselves in the arts.We provide places where people can focus time thinking about the arts.”
Heyler offers personal insight that perhaps gives the clearest picture of Broad’s giving nature. “In November 1994, Eli purchased Roy Lichtenstein’s I…I’m Sorry at a Sotheby’s auction for $2.5 million and paid with a credit card that earned him frequent flier miles for the transaction. He gave the miles to CalArts to allow the student performing arts troupes to travel to the renowned Edinburgh festival in Scotland.”
But it is Marsha Levine, a contemporary art collector and (with her late husband Sanford) MOCA founder, who sums it up:“Edythe and Eli have been my friends for many years.When there is a need, Eli steps up to the plate.”
Image: Mr. Broad at a press conference for his Grand Avenue project. Image courtesy The Broad Foundations.