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LACMA given $25-million gift

The BP donation will go toward a solar entrance that the British oil firm hopes will invoke energy innovation.

March 06, 2007|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

A $25-million donation from BP has capped phase one of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's three-part expansion and renovation campaign. Solar panels atop a new entry pavilion named for the British oil company will signal BP's wish to be seen as an environmental innovator. LACMA plans to announce today that the glass-encased structure will be called the BP Grand Entrance. It's under construction along with the adjacent Broad Contemporary Art Museum, with both additions to the museum's Wilshire Boulevard campus projected to open next February. The entrance is a key point in architect Renzo Piano's plan to unify LACMA's sprawling, often confusing layout of buildings.

Bob Malone, chairman and president of Houston-based BP America, said the gift betokens a commitment to the arts and a steady philanthropic role in Los Angeles. Before it was merged into BP in 2000, L.A.-based Arco was hailed locally for its philanthropy, including a $10-million donation in 1997 for the Walt Disney Concert Hall. To allay concerns over the merger, BP promised to donate at least $100 million to California charities within 10 years. Malone said that BP's gift to LACMA is free-standing and won't be counted toward the $100 million. He said the same goes for a recently announced $500-million, 10-year research grant to UC Berkeley and other institutions to develop alternative, cleaner-burning fuels.

Since 2002, BP has agreed to more than $125 million in legal settlements with state and regional agencies over pollution problems.

BP reported profits of $22 billion in 2006 and a record $22.3 billion in 2005. The $25 million for LACMA matches Walt Disney Co.'s 1997 gift for Disney Hall as the biggest corporate donation to the arts in Los Angeles' recent memory. It comes as the arts recede as a cause for big corporations. A survey by the Conference Board, a nonprofit business research organization, showed a 6.1% drop in average arts giving from 2002 to 2005, according to figures from the Americans for the Arts advocacy group.

Malone said he became a LACMA fan while president of BP's L.A.-based Western regional office from 2000 to 2002, before his four-year transfer to London. "There's a huge need not to lose the arts" as a focus for corporate philanthropy, said Malone, who announced a three-year, $3.4-million BP grant to the Chicago Symphony in November.

He said that Eli Broad, who gave $60 million to LACMA's campaign with his wife, Edythe, was a rainmaker for the donation. More than a year ago, BP first gave $1 million to LACMA's endowment campaign. Malone said he subsequently called Broad after being put in charge of U.S. operations, asking him to recommend causes in L.A. "where we could make a difference."

In courting the gift from BP's top executives in London, LACMA Director Michael Govan said he emphasized "access and energy" as hallmarks of the new museum entrance that would be a symbolic fit for a gasoline seller (BP's brands in California are Arco and Thrifty) interested in making art more available to the public. It was BP's idea to make the energy connection literal. The solar panels will help feed the museum's power needs.

Last year, LACMA announced it was going to name the new entrance the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Grand Entrance Pavilion, in honor of their $25-million gift early in the campaign. Lynda Resnick, a vice chair on LACMA's board said they were happy to step aside to clear the pipeline for BP's millions; they'll instead apply their donation -- and more -- to an as-yet-unannounced, "really exciting" new feature in the second phase.

Without giving details, Govan, hired just over a year ago, said he had "expanded the ambition" of LACMA's pay-as-you-go overhaul and expansion. The first-phase goal was $150 million when announced two years ago; BP's gift closes out first-phase fundraising at $191 million. Govan said that "although we exceeded our goal," factors such as financing and rising construction costs do not mean that LACMA has a $41-million windfall.

For BP, environmentally tinged largess comes after several years of environmental mishaps in California. In 2002, BP paid the state $45.8 million to settle a suit over pollution from leaking gasoline storage tanks. Later, air quality regulators sued over leakage of smog-forming chemicals at BP's Carson refinery. BP settled for $81 million.

"Yes, we've had some incidents ... we deeply regret, and we're in action to get those right," Malone said. Topping a structure like the LACMA entrance with solar panels sends a message that BP and California are serious about setting a green example, he said.

And putting an oil company's name on LACMA's doorway brings an unusually high potential for controversy, Govan acknowledged. "What was convincing to me was their commitment to sustainable energy.... We won't make the transition without the help and cooperation of these major corporations."

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mike.boehm@latimes.com

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