Billionaire Bails Out L.A. Museum

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In Los Angeles, the financially troubled Museum of Contemporary Art gets a bailout from arts patron Eli Broad. He'll match donor funding dollar-for-dollar up to $15 million and will also give MOCA $3 million a year for exhibits over the next five years.

ALEX COHEN, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen. We've seen bailouts for the auto industry and for the banks. Well now, it looks like it's the art world's turn. A few weeks ago on the show, we heard from billionaire Eli Broad, who offered $30 million in assistance to L.A.'s struggling Museum of Contemporary Art, known as MOCA. As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, MOCA has decided to accept Broad's bailout.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: In its three-decade history, MOCA has become one of the most highly regarded museums in the country. Tens of thousands have streamed through MOCA's rose marble building to see exhibitions by Richard Serra, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Takashi Murakami. But while the museum's artistic vision was sure, its finances were anything but.

After months of rumors about its financial collapse, MOCA's trustees announced that the museum was receiving a critically necessary infusion of cash from arts patron Eli Broad. As the museum announced the deal, Broad said the survival of MOCA was central to his vision of a city center for 21st century L.A.

Mr. ELI BROAD (Billionaire Philanthropist): Because I can think of no other city in world history or today that has become great without a vibrant center.

GRIGSBY BATES: MOCA is an important part of a downtown renaissance that includes Walt Disney Concert Hall, another Broad beneficiary, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and the most expensive public school devoted to the arts ever built.

15 million dollars of Broad's grant will match the donor contributions dollar for dollar. The second 15 million, given over five years, will allow the museum to continue to mount important exhibitions like the current one featuring French sculptor Louise Bourgeois.

Part of the negotiations for MOCA involve a regime change. Jeremy Strick, who guided the museum for nine years, stepped down. The board appointed Charles Young, former chancellor of UCLA and an avid collector of contemporary art, to ease MOCA into solvency.

Young said the board had five goals: to keep the museum's current headquarters, to maintain its independence, to make its collections even more widely available to the viewing public, to make sure the quality of those collections remains high, and to restore MOCA's financial health. Young says that may involve some painful cuts.

Mr. CHARLES YOUNG (Director, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art): In an organization like this, a huge amount of expenditures are for staff and personnel. So it'd be awfully hard to see how substantial reductions couldn't be made without eliminating some positions.

GRIGSBY BATES: Something the banking and auto industries have already learned. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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Billionaire Eli Broad Offers To Bail Out L.A. Museum

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Eli Broad i

Billionaire art collector Eli Broad, 75, says that "failure is not an option" when it comes to the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum has been struggling from a loss of endowment money. Katherine Opitz/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Katherine Opitz/NPR
Eli Broad

Billionaire art collector Eli Broad, 75, says that "failure is not an option" when it comes to the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum has been struggling from a loss of endowment money.

Katherine Opitz/NPR

One of Eli Broad's favorite pieces is Jeff Koons' 1986 stainless steel "Rabbit." Courtesy of Broad Art Foundation hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Broad Art Foundation
Koons Bunny

One of Eli Broad's favorite pieces is Jeff Koons' 1986 stainless steel "Rabbit."

Courtesy of Broad Art Foundation

The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art is in serious financial trouble. The museum has rising operational costs, and its endowment has dropped from more than $40 million to just $6 million.

But billionaire financier, philanthropist and arts lover Eli Broad is offering a $30 million boost to the struggling museum — but not without a few rules.

First, he says the museum needs to make changes starting from the top. "They've got to reconstitute the board with people that are going to step up to their responsibilities as trustees, and they're going to probably have to reduce their budget, but not their programs," Broad tells Alex Cohen.

Under Broad's conditions, MOCA cannot merge with any other institutions or sell any pieces of art. But what happens if MOCA officials don't meet their end of the bargain?

"No one wants it to fail. And I think there are people out there that are going to step up to the plate and help. To me, failure is not an option," Broad says.

Broad also emphasizes the importance of art and performance during rough economic times. He cites Jeff Koons' 1986 stainless steel sculpture titled "Rabbit" as one of his favorite and most uplifting pieces. "We really do need art to lift our spirits," he says. "It lets your mind get away from the economic trauma we're living in. It lifts our spirits."

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