Eli Broad Looms Large Over Los Angeles Arts Scene

Since moving to Los Angeles four decades ago, billionaire philanthropist and businessman Eli Broad has used his results-focused management style to significantly transform the city's arts and cultural landscape, the New York Times reports.

Broad and his $2.5 billion foundation have given hundreds of millions of dollars to support the arts in Los Angeles, including $30 million to help rescue the Museum of Contemporary Art in late 2008. Broad also oversaw fundraising for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Walt Disney Concert Hall, supported the Los Angeles Opera production of Wagner's "Ring" cycle, and has treated his own contemporary art collection as a sort of lending library for other institutions.

Broad, who founded two Fortune 500 companies before taking up philanthropy full time, places exacting demands on how the millions he donates are spent and has been known to pull his support, resign from a board, or, in some cases, walk away from his financial promises when a project does not come together in a way he likes. He also relies on specific metrics to judge the success of his giving — museums should see their attendance and giving by board members increase, for example, while schools should see test scores go up. "If we start with a game plan, I want to make sure it happens," Broad told the Times. "At age 76, I don't want to feel frustrated."

While critics agree Broad has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on the city's cultural scene, some say his outsize influence is evidence of Los Angeles' still-adolescent philanthropic culture, diffuse power base, and lack of civic investment by many of its wealthiest residents. Indeed, Broad in some ways may be defining the rules of the game for the city's emerging philanthropists. "Eli does nothing without strings, but I happen to think you need strings," said Jane Nathanson, a longtime trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art. "I think there is a new type of philanthropist now. With old-family wealth, people gave money because it was the chic thing to do. New wealth is earned, and if you can get it, there is going to be a great deal of control."

Jennifer Steinhauer. "Wielding Iron Checkbook to Shape Cultural Los Angeles." New York Times 02/07/2010.