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Building Support by Example

Art * For LACMA's expansion, Eli Broad hints at the largest gift of his philanthropy career--but the museum isn't relying only on him.

January 15, 2002|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

Eli Broad was buttoned-down and businesslike, as usual, as he ushered a visitor into the inner sanctum of his foundation's offices on the 12th floor of a Westwood high-rise. He was ready to talk, at least a little, about his part in underwriting the new building for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

"I expect to be a significant donor," he said. Instead of naming a figure, he offered a clue: "Let me put it this way. It will be more than our family has ever given to any other building, by some margin.''

Broad's promise means the museum's radical plan to demolish four of its six buildings and replace them with a $200-million, tent-topped structure designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas is off and running.

The amount of his donation won't be announced until the museum kicks off the public phase of its capital campaign, and that won't begin until more than half of the money has been privately pledged--a process that could take up to a year. But Broad's hint a few weeks ago indicates that his gift will top the $23 million his family has contributed to the Broad Center for the Biological Sciences, under construction at Caltech and designed by architect James Ingo Freed.

"Eli has given me something to work with," the museum's president and director, Andrea L. Rich, said last week. "I don't think it's the end of what he will do, but it's a base of support that enables us to start setting up other partnerships and arrangements."

Other trustees "have made commitments to make commitments," she said. The campaign goal has not been set, but it probably will be around $300 million, including a big chunk for endowment, trustees say, which is currently $82 million.

Broad, who made his first millions in home building with the firm Kaufman & Broad, and the rest with SunAmerica, is widely considered to be L.A.'s wealthiest philanthropist. He's credited with kick-starting the campaign to raise funds for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 1997, when the project was stalled because of escalating costs, and is a well-known advocate of distinguished architecture.

He is also one of the world's leading collectors of contemporary art, courted by dealers, curators and museum directors. Not incidentally, his collection is the subject of a major traveling exhibition that opened at LACMA in October.

Given all that, he might be expected to provide the lion's share of the money for the museum's transformation. But Rich contends that "several major partners" must be involved. "It wouldn't be good for this project to be bankrolled by a single person," she said. "Eli wouldn't do it and shouldn't. The museum is a public institution. I think it should be clear that this is a community project that is not led by or dependent upon a single donor."

She wants to make clear that no one knows exactly how the proposed building will shape up, let alone who will foot the bill, but LACMA leaders are steaming ahead on "parallel tracks," as she puts it.

First, Walter L. Weisman was asked to serve an unprecedented second term as chairman of the board. He and Rich are lining up other trustees to solicit major gifts during the campaign's "quiet phase" and to guide the effort when it goes public. "It isn't just me asking for gifts," Rich said. "The trustees have to convince each other, then roll up their sleeves and ask colleagues to join them."

At the same time, the museum is negotiating a contract with the architect, hiring a legal firm that specializes in architectural development and seeking a Southern California executive architect to work with the Koolhaas team.

Fund-raising must keep pace with the building project, Rich emphasized. But if all goes well, the process will take from five to seven years, with construction likely to begin in about two years.

LACMA--which derives about one-third of its $40.5-million annual operating budget from the county--began developing its plans for expansion and redesign with a $10-million county grant issued two years ago to analyze the museum's physical problems, facilitate improvements and increase public access.

"That's extremely valuable money because it's hard to raise funds for those things. You can't get going without it," Rich said, adding that the remaining grant money will be used for design development, but all construction funds will be raised from private sources.

As for skepticism about raising money in an economic downturn, "we are always in a recession or a boom; that's the way the economy works," Rich said. "In a public institution, you just keep plugging along in the boom time and the down time. It averages out."

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