ALEX COHEN, host:
More than 50 years ago, Eli Broad took a $25,000 loan and started a company that built affordable homes. He went on to become one of the country's wealthiest men. He is now worth over $6 billion, and he spends much of that money on art.
Mr. ELI BROAD (Billionaire, Philanthropist): Art is not a good investment in my view. If you're a real collector, all that happens when it goes up in value is you pay more for insurance. So we don't look at it from an economic point of view.
COHEN: So, it may seem strange that Eli Broad recently said he'd give $30 million to the Museum of Contemporary Art here in L.A. The museum, known as MOCA, has been facing some serious financial troubles. When I sat down with Eli Broad at his offices earlier this week, he said he'd give the money only if the museum met certain conditions. No merging with other institutions. No selling any of its collection.
Mr. BROAD: 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.
COHEN: You've set these parameters for MOCA in order for you to contribute your share of $30 million. What if they don't meet their end of the bargain? Would you let the museum fail?
Mr. BROAD: Well, we don't want - 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.
COHEN: During times like these times that we're living in now, there's all sorts of people asking for bailouts, for help. You've got the Big Three automakers in trouble. You've got failing banks, and here you said you will share all of this money, $30 million, with a museum. Why extend to that particular business?
Mr. BROAD: Again, I was a founding chairman. I feel an obligation, and I think, in times like these, we do need the arts to really lift our spirits.
COHEN: Can you give an example maybe of how a piece of art might fill that goal? A lot of people - just to play devil's advocate - might say, people are losing their homes to foreclosure. What is a piece of art going to do? What would you say?
Mr. BROAD: Well, I think, if one goes to a performance, whether it's a theater, symphony, or museum and sees an exhibition, it lets your mind get away from the economic trauma we're all living in. It lifts our spirits.
COHEN: Is there a particular piece of art - you have so many in your collection - but is there one you can think of now where you look at and you might see hope in what otherwise might look like a dour time to some?
Mr. BROAD: Well, we've had a number of things at home, and the one work, when I go through our front door, what I love is Jeff Koon's Bunny. It's polished stainless steel made to look like a blown up balloon bunny. That makes me smile.
COHEN: You've set out this challenge for MOCA. You've said, here, I'll help you with this money, but you've got to make some changes. What advice would you give to the rest of this country - other failing business out there right now?
Mr. BROAD: I think everyone has to recognize that we're in a different era. It means budgets have to be cut. We've got to have contingency plans, and we're got to ride it out. But I must say, this is the worst situation since the Great Depression, without any doubt in my mind.
COHEN: Is there a silver lining in this? Have you seen any difference in prices - prices dropping? Has that helped you maybe acquire things that you wanted to acquire.
Mr. BROAD: Well, as I was leaving the recent auction at Sotheby's, Carol Vogel of New York Times followed me in the elevator and said, you haven't bought anything in years at auction. Why are doing this? I said, well, it's half-price sale. And frankly, I'm pleased that prices are lower because it allows collectors who are not interested as an investment medium to build collections that end up being shown to a broader public in museums and elsewhere.
COHEN: Eli Broad, thank you so much. We really appreciate it.
Mr. BROAD: Good being with you today.
COHEN: I spoke with philanthropist Eli Broad at his Broad Foundation office in Los Angeles.