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Eli Broad says there are no strings on his $30-million MOCA bailout offer

December 3, 2008 | 11:00 am

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When Eli Broad announced recently in a Times opinion piece that he wanted to help bail out the financially woebegone Museum of Contemporary Art by making a $30-million "investment" in its rescue, his choice of words made some wonder what he might want in return. After all, when anyone makes an investment, they're hoping for a tangible payoff.

But billionaire philanthropists are not like the rest of us. Clarifying his aims Tuesday, Broad said all he wants for his $30 mil -- if MOCA's board chooses to accept it -- is "keeping MOCA a vibrant, independent museum for the city ... with a vibrant exhibition program on Grand Avenue. The fear I have is a New York Times story that says, 'L.A. Museum Fails' or 'Closes.' "

Broad outlined the offer he said he has communicated to MOCA leaders: He figures the museum needs $25 million to replenish the endowment it has gradually been spending down over the last eight years to stay in business. He would put up half that amount as a challenge grant, matching each dollar MOCA raises on its own.

On top of that, Broad said, MOCA needs "maybe another $5 million" to cover its projected operating deficit for the coming year. He'd kick in half of that as well, again with the idea of matching what MOCA raises.

That comes to $15 million in Broad bucks for refilling the endowment and covering the deficit, which together presumably would bring MOCA back to fiscally even -- if it can find other donors to collectively match his ante. The other $15 million, no match required, would arrive in $3 million installments spread over five years, to help cover the cost of the museum's art exhibitions.

There would be no strict time frame for MOCA to raise its share, Broad said. If other donors wanted to spread gifts out over several years, he'd time his matches to come in on the same timetable.

Broad said he would like an answer after MOCA's scheduled Dec. 16 board meeting. "I don't want to [set] any hard-and-fast date. If they need a few more weeks that doesn't bother me, but they've got to come to grips with the issue at some point."

In a prepared statement, MOCA officials said that the museum's board and staff "are diligently working to evaluate and develop various options for the long-term financial health of the museum," with hopes for a decision by year's end.

At one point, Broad said, he had suggested that a formal art-loan exchange be part of his rescue package. Pieces from MOCA's collection would be made available for the Broad Art Foundation to send hither and yon in fulfilling the foundation's mission as a "lending library" for museums around the world. MOCA, in return, would get some defined dibs on borrowing from the foundation's collection for its exhibitions. But Broad said he has dropped the idea, wanting his offer to be unmistakably a no-strings deal.

"Neither I nor the foundation are looking for any financial return whatsoever, and there's no requirement that they lend art to our foundation."

Broad gave $56 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art so the museum could build its 50,000-square-foot Broad Contemporary Art Museum, which opened in February. In three or four years, he hopes to open a new headquarters for the Broad Foundation, which would include storage for its collection -- the one Broad decided to keep under his own control rather than donating it to LACMA. The new foundation headquarters also would contain a 25,000-square-foot museum -- equal to MOCA's gallery space on Grand Avenue, although MOCA augments that with the huge Geffen Contemporary. Geffen also is downtown, but MOCA is soon to close it for at least six months as an austerity measure.

Broad said his interest in rescuing MOCA overlaps his vision of making L.A. famous as an art mecca and his hopes for revitalizing the city's downtown. In the mid-1990s, he joined then-mayor Richard Riordan in saving Walt Disney Concert Hall from oblivion by re-launching a funding campaign that had failed, the construction money having run out with only a parking garage and foundation slab to show for it. Broad also has pushed for the Frank Gehry-designed Grand Avenue project, with its planned injection of residential and retail development intended to bring some missing street-life to the downtown arts district.

If MOCA accepts his offer, Broad said, he won't reprise his turn as a Disney Hall fundraiser. "I will give them ideas on what to do and how to do it, but I don't want to be the fundraiser," he said. "I want to be the donor."

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Eli Broad. Credit: Jamie Rector / Bloomberg News

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