On Sunday, “60 Minutes” featured a piece on Los Angeles’ billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad. The story features a look into Broad’s form “Venture Philanthropy” in which his charitable contributions are tied to investment gains. His non-profit organizations centered in the Arts, Education and Medical Research each run like for-profit entities. As such, his fiscal discipline and years of ownership in corporations involved in home building and insurance lend themselves to a style of civic leadership that harkens back to the days of Carnegie and Rockefeller.
In artistic circles these traits appear to be diametrically opposed to philanthropy borne out of true altruism (although I question if this truly exists anymore). I had an opportunity to meet Eli Broad at a book reading earlier this year and I think he’s an interesting man. People who can seamlessly co-exist in corporate America and the art world fascinate me because I dance a fine line between these worlds myself. So when he discusses collecting art in an analytical business context, I understand it despite the fact that I don’t necessarily ascribe to this approach. Whether you think of Broad as a benevolent Robber Barron, a dictatorial control-freak or someone in between, this interview is an interesting look at a man, his wealth, and what he intends to do with it.
The best quote from the story came from Morley Safer about 12 minutes into the piece (it sums up my growing disdain for the “Hollywoodizing” of the Contemporary Art movement in Los Angeles):
“Just watch this crowd at the recent gala for the Los Angles Museum of Contemporary Art, which Broad bailed out 2 yrs ago for $30 billion dollars. It was a scrum of culture vultures, fashion victims and art victims, dealers and collectors- a night when skinniness was next only to godliness, when philanthropy and social climbing, self aggrandizement, and greed dissolved into one gigantic air kiss-all under the benevolent eye of that feared and admired dictator, Eli Broad.”
Hmm, I still wonder if he’s going to buy the Dodgers…