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Art of Fund-Raising Will Be Tested in Cultural Building Boom

June 02, 2002|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS and MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Brother, can you spare a billion dollars? That's the tab, conservatively calculated, if you add up fund-raising campaigns among cultural institutions seeking bigger and better buildings in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

It's enough money to build the Getty Center all over again. But instead of relying on the bequest of a single oil magnate, these drives will be seeking dollars a harder way: one rich donor at a time.

The region's pockets are deep enough, say veteran philanthropists and arts officials. But several also said they don't expect every campaign to meet its targets--because when the stakes are this high, will and skill among the fund-raisers matter almost as much as wealth among donors.

The underlying challenge here "isn't about money. It's about leadership," said Jack Shakely, president of the California Community Foundation, one of the state's leading philanthropic organizations.

Even if all major campaigns do reach their goals, some arts leaders add, they fear a struggle that could squeeze smaller institutions out as donors ally themselves with the largest, sexiest buildings. And yet another peril could arise after the big buildings are finished, when organizations confront higher day-to-day operating expenses.

But the larger picture is positive, arts leaders and fund-raisers say. They suggest that Southern California has become so wealthy and culturally rich that the current menu of projects is a reasonable response to the resources and demand at hand. In fact, the most optimistic observers say the rising ambitions of so many institutions may signal a moment of arrival for the region.

"It is staggering when you add it all up. But there's a kind of a cumulative energy that comes from people feeling good about the city maturing and advancing. It's kind of contagious," said Claire Peeps, executive director of the Santa Monica-based Durfee Foundation and a veteran administrator of arts organizations.

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The last time the region had so many high-profile cultural projects in the works was probably four decades ago, when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Music Center of Los Angeles County and the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) went up between 1964 and 1968, each on land provided by a government agency. The combined private fund-raising for those projects, corrected for inflation, comes to roughly $300 million--less than a third of the target in the scramble for cash that's about to begin.

LACMA and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles in Exposition Park are the largest players, each preparing to seek $200 million to $300 million. In LACMA's case, some of the money will go to its endowment.

The Orange County Performing Arts Center's push for a new concert hall is not quite halfway to its goal of $200 million. The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and the Children's Museum of Los Angeles will be seeking more than $100 million each, and projects at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Westwood, the Petersen Automotive Museum across Wilshire Boulevard from LACMA, the Skirball Cultural Center in Brentwood and the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach add up to another $100 million.

Downtown L.A.'s Walt Disney Concert Hall, meanwhile, remains $20 million to $25 million short of its $275-million target. And finally, several other campaigns with targets under $25 million are running or soon to start. All this comes on the heels of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles having raised millions for the new downtown cathedral and various area universities regularly raising capital funds.

Though some of these efforts have been public for months or longer, most are still in the silent phase--that spell, often as long as a year, when fund-raisers quietly tap board members and longtime boosters. Thus, under the fund-raisers' traditional rule of thumb--never kick off a public campaign until you've privately raised half the money--officials at those institutions aren't talking about what they've secured so far.

At LACMA and the Museum of Natural History, officials say they may not make their campaigns public for another year or more. The public phases each will probably last several years, running parallel with construction work.

Government grants, which help most nonprofit cultural groups meet operating costs, aren't expected to play a big part in the campaigns now unfolding, because government agencies don't typically contribute cash to the bricks-and-mortar expansions of cultural agencies. However, LACMA and the Museum of Natural History, both affiliated with the county of Los Angeles, have used county money in assembling their plans for renovation.

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To build a museum or a concert hall, said the California Community Foundation's Shakely, a close observer of the state's philanthropical landscape for more than two decades, "you get about half of your money from about 5% of the people. Old money. People who are so wealthy, they're sort of writing their moral biographies."

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