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SoCal billionaires plentiful, but most are not known for giving big sums to the arts*

March 16, 2010 |  4:12 pm

IrwinJoanJacobsTormey What do the arts need to thrive?

Well, apart from talented, creative and inspired artists, impresarios to give them a forum and arts-appreciators to enjoy the results, the arts mainly need rich people. Which brings us to Forbes magazine's annual listing of the world's billionaires, published last week.

By Culture Monster's count, 73 of the 1,011 souls that Forbes pegs as worth $1 billion to $53.5 billion (the estimated worth of Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, top dog on this year's list) have their main residences in California. Thirty-one live in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, and 42 in Silicon Valley and points north.

EliEdytheBroad The good news for the L.A. arts scene is that Eli Broad, by Forbes' reckoning, had a decent 2009; his net worth increased $500 million to $5.7 billion, good for No. 132 on the billionaires' hit parade. In philanthropic circles, who you know counts -- and Forbes notes that Broad and Slim already have partnered to fund medical research. So it's not inconceivable that Broad could drop Slim a line and shake loose the odd seven-figure sum on behalf of an  artistic enterprise.

Two other potentially helpful L.A.-associated billionaires are Roman Abromovich and Victor Pinchuk, both Russians. Abromovich is worth $11.2 billion, according to Forbes. His girlfriend, Dasha Zhukova, is an art lover who recently joined LACMA's board; Pinchuk, with wealth pegged at $3.1 billion, is on MOCA's board. [*Updated: an earlier version of this post mistakenly said that Dasha Zhukova had joined MOCA's board.]

Of the 31 Southern California-based billionaires, a decided minority are known to be big supporters of the arts.

DonaldBrenGauthier There's Broad, whose gifts have buoyed MOCA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Disney Hall construction, L.A. Opera's production of Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle and the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, not to mention the new museum he aims to build for his own art collection. 

-- Donald Bren, worth $12 billion at No. 45, making him the richest man in Southern California. Bren is a member of LACMA's board and a major supporter of UC Irvine's Claire Trevor School of the Arts, which is named for his film-star stepmother.

--David Geffen, $5 billion, No. 154, who made major past gifts to MOCA and the Geffen Playhouse.

--Ronald Burkle, $3.2 billion, No. 297. He has given to MOCA and Disney Hall construction.

--Henry Samueli, $1.7 billion, No. 582 and a major donor to the Orange County Performing Arts Center and the defunct Opera Pacific.

--George Argyros, $1.5 billion, No. 655, with major gifts to South Coast Repertory.

--Edward Roski Jr., 1.5 billion, with a naming gift to USC's Roski School of Fine Arts.

-- Henry Nicholas III, $1.5 billion, gifts to South Coast Repertory and Orange County Performing Arts Center

-- Irwin Jacobs, 1.2 billion, No. 828 and an extensive dossier as San Diego's top arts donor, including a $100-million donation and bequest to the San Diego Symphony.

Being a creative artist or performer apparently is no reliable path to amassing a billion dollars. The only ones on the Forbes list are filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas ($3 billion each), actor-television host Oprah Winfrey ($2.4 billion), Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte ($2.5 billion) and "Harry Potter" novelist J.K. Rowling ($1 billion).

If you're not a billionaire, and are beginning to feel a bit insignificant in the face of mega-wealth, remember to think proportionately: When a billionaire donates $1 million, it's the equivalent of a millionaire giving $1,000; of a person with a net worth of $100,000 giving $100, and of someone who lives paycheck to paycheck giving anything at all.

-- Mike Boehm


The world's billionaires

Photos: Irwin and Joan Jacobs (top); Eli and Edythe Broad; Donald Bren. Credits: Los Angeles Times (Jacobs); Dan Steinberg/AP (Broads); Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times (Bren).

Comments () | Archives (11)

No gift/donation is insignificant, remember to think the other way around too: for a business that yield 5% annual return on the investment, it will take $10,000 to make $500 profit. That means if you give a non-profits $500 contribution, it is equivalent to that if the organization has invested $10,000 12 months ago and ran a very successful operation. Every dollar counts.

I appreciated your stab at putting the wealth vs donation factor into perspective.

LA is really far down the list of cities with major company headquarters, and so always bad with fundraising for worthy donations, like the Red Cross and United Way. Most of our billionaires are from real estate, both NBA teams are owned by glorfied slumlords, and Broad servicing their land domains. Thieves all. No real product, all speculation, no beef. Cheaply built McMansions far from jobs, and contributing to urban sprawl,traffic and global warming. All bean counters, not craftmen or professionals. And the Russians are perhaps the biggest thieves of all. Nouveau riche, and so tacky and all about self image.

Only 7% of the billionaires live in Cali, 3% in LA area, while the state is double that in population percentage, thats bad. Most are Hollywood types outside of the land grabbers, its they only "industry" in town. And they are rather cheap, and not that high up the list. Plus, this is a pop town, not an art town. its about entertainment, and so the arts reflect that, it is lifestyle, not substance. Fashion is NOT art, and a few can be the trendsetters, no matter how meaningless here.

Stop with the major building, far too many museums already for the limited quality and quanity of good art. Just paint LACMA and MoLAA, as I have shown, and those museums are fine for what they are Supposed to be, meeting places for ALL of LA, not just the few trendies and their parties. Museums have replaced temples and city halls as meeting places, where all the diffeent areas and ethnicities of the city can converge and mingle and cross polinate. Er, let me take that back, as the LBC is the center of swirldom. But LACMA, and especially MoCA are centers of the white and spoiled, truly "ethnic art", terribly segregated from 90% and 99% of the area respectively. Its time to come together, and just perhaps then, something will come forth that is Truly LA, and not Hollywood. Aint happenin so far.

art collegia delenda est

God bless Wallis Annenberg!

And none of them give any money at all to the small community-based non profit organizations that mostly get by barely on the sweat of volunteers but where new talent originates and develops.

It's called "Survival of the Fittest". It'd be nice to have some money to trickle down to those non-progits but honestly a lot of those productions are terrible and no amount is going to save that.

Also, you are talking about an industry where an infinitesimal amount of actors, etc, ever make it or even earn a lving. You should know that..

of course adam - small hard-working worthy organizations don't build buildings for them to put their names on. Museums to these people are real estate. If the museum directors just sold it to them in that way - they'd get more zillionaires on board I'm sure.

The bigger problem is that we rely on the rich to decide what culture we will have. Why shouldn't we citizens (government) fund more culture? And remove the tax deductions for giving? People give because they want to, not because of a tax deduction. Oh, we can't afford it? A small tax on these billionaires and a some of the millionaires might go a long way to solving the problem.

According to DF's comment above, "7% of the billionaires live in Cali, 3% in LA area, while the state is double that in population percentage, thats bad".
The only thing really "bad" here is DF's math. The population of our state is around 35 million which is only about one half of one percent of the world's population - nowhere near the percentage implied by DF in his statement.

My bad again, misread it as US billionaires. The rest was all true, we are all real estate robber barons and Hollywood entertainment types, with a few odd Russian thieves thrown in, how he got here i have no idea, and dont want to. I am sure he resides mostly in Russia, with lots of party houses tossed around the world to hold his amusement center contempt art Hirsts and Koons and such. Russian fortunes dissapear quite quickly, putting his current holding into disposable cash troves for when Putin gets mad at him. Do we realy need such disgusting figures in art? Apparently.

And we wonder why art is so useless and ethically vacant now. Or do "we"?

art collegia delenda est
Save the Watts Towers, tear down the Ivories.

DF asks, "And we wonder why art is so useless and ethically vacant now. Or do 'we'?"

When I was a child art filled me with wonder. Now I just wonder what went wrong. Oh, sorry. Is that too much baby talk for you?

Ask a "WeHo" chick, DF.


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