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Eli Broad dangles a carrot in front of L.A. Unified

He donates to Juilliard and promises similar funding here -- if the

April 11, 2009|Howard Blume

Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad will help pay for a New York-based arts program that benefits poor and minority students -- and he said Friday that he and other donors would provide similar funding here if the Los Angeles school district can better manage its own arts programs, especially the new downtown arts high school.

The Broad Foundation has pledged to contribute $425,000 so the Juilliard School can allow dozens of public school students to receive up to four years of free musical training. Broad said he decided to make the gift after reading a newspaper article about the program canceling auditions in a tight budget year.

"It really moved me," Broad said. "I was saddened they were going to cut out these minority kids."

But Broad also made a point about problem-plagued Central L.A. Area High School No. 9, the high-concept arts specialty school that is scheduled to open in the fall even though it still lacks an executive director, a permanent principal, a staff and an arts curriculum.

"It's clear that if you have a quality arts high school, especially one that is educating kids from minority communities, there will be philanthropic funds forthcoming, as evidenced from our willingness to give money to Juilliard," Broad said.

Such funding will be crucial for the new campus, he said, adding that it will cost more to run than other public high schools. "It will need some philanthropic support, not only from us but from others," he said.

In L.A., the billionaire donor has contributed tens of millions of dollars to arts endeavors. But except for backing local charter schools, which are not directly managed by the Los Angeles Unified School District, Broad has directed his education philanthropy outside the district because he lacks confidence in it, he said.

Some civic leaders, including Broad, have called on district officials to turn over the arts school to a nonprofit organization with a track record of successfully managing local charter schools. So far, the officials have resisted.

In an interview, Broad also suggested that the district delay opening the school for a year, an idea seconded by Araceli Ruano, chairwoman of Discovering the Arts, an organization formed to advise the district on the arts school and help raise money.

"We should do things right and build from the foundation up," Ruano said. "There's just too much to do."

Broad has been involved with the project since about 2001, when district officials discussed demolishing their Grand Avenue headquarters for a new high school.

Broad pushed for a marquee arts school that would anchor a boulevard of arts-related landmarks in the downtown area.

The result is a striking campus for 1,728 students, but also a project beset with delays and problems during a period of exploding construction expenses.

The school has cost $242 million, or more than $140,000 a seat on land the district already owned. L.A. Unified also spent $190 million to relocate the district's headquarters.

Broad estimated that he has contributed about $1.5 million to support the project at various phases. He also put up $5 million in grant funds that could eventually benefit the school.

In New York, his donation, prompted by a New York Times article, will kick-start a campaign to raise $1.5 million for the Music Advancement Project. In the program, Juilliard instructors comb public schools for promising students who then are able to attend Saturday classes at the prestigious Manhattan conservatory.

"We're looking for that fire and the desire to learn more, and that's even more important than the skill," said Riccardo Salmona, Juilliard's vice president for development and public affairs. "They're asked to play a piece, and they bring whatever instrument they play. One student played 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' on the trombone."

The Juilliard program was due to be revamped, Salmona said, and officials had opted for a one-year hiatus, both to save money during tough economic times and to allow for planning. But that would have deprived new students, in third through eighth grades, of the chance to attend.

Juilliard now says it will accept students into the program for the fall after all and, with other donors, hopes to put the program on a firm financial footing.

Such benefactors will step forward for the L.A. arts school, too, Ruano said, but "they want to know who's going to lead the school and the vision and exactly how their funds are going to be invested."

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howard.blume@latimes.com

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