Philanthropist transformed Los Angeles with his generosity
By Bridgette M. Redman
For more than 50 years, philanthropist Eli Broad helped transform Los Angeles, donating millions to help carry out a vision of making his adopted hometown a world-class city. He died on April 30 at the age of 87.
Broad’s name is splashed throughout the city as a testament to his generosity. His passion for art led to the creation of premier contemporary art museums and performance spaces in LA, Santa Monica and around the country.
Broad and his wife, Edye, donated millions to endow arts programming at Santa Monica College. The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College of Performing Arts opened in 2008 due to their generosity. The proscenium stage of more than 500 seats hosts theater, dance, film, opera, jazz, world music, musicals, symphony, chamber orchestras and family programming. The space also has The Edye, which is a 100-seat black box theater focused on new, developing and innovative work in theater.
The founder of two Fortune 500 companies, Broad’s financial worth was valued at $6 billion. One company is now KB Home and the other SunAmerica, a subsidiary of the insurance company AIG. In addition to art, he underwrote education, medical research and the Democratic Party.
“Few people had more of an impact on the city of LA than Eli Broad,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein in a statement. “His philanthropic work influenced fields as diverse as education, science, health care and the arts — especially through The Broad, his world-famous museum.”
In 2010, the year Broad and his wife founded The Broad Foundation, they signed “The Giving Pledge”, where wealthy individuals committed to giving at least half of their wealth to charity. They went above that, committing to giving 75% of their wealth away.
Through their foundations, Broad and his wife had donated $4 billion as of 2017, nearly $1 billion of that going to LA.
From humble beginnings to billionaire
Broad was born in the Bronx on June 6, 1933. His parents, Rebecca (Jacobson) and Leo Broad, were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. They moved to Detroit when he was 6 years old and worked as laborers. He met his future wife in Detroit and attended Michigan State University, where he graduated cum laude in three years with a degree in accounting.
In college, Broad held such jobs as selling women’s shoes, selling garbage disposals and working as a drill press operator at Packard Motor. He is among MSU’s best-known alumni.
“Eli was a selfless, kindhearted man who dedicated much of his life to making the lives of others better,” MSU president Samuel Stanley Jr. said in a statement. “Eli embodied what it means to be a Spartan.”
Over time, the Broads gave more than $100 million to the university. The graduate and undergraduate programs are named after Eli. They also donated $33 million to build the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum on campus.
“He had a tremendous vision of not only making access to art free, but making the highest caliber art in the contemporary art world available,” said Monica Ramirez-Montagut, Eli and Edythe Broad Museum director. “He was keen on saying he wanted to give back and he wanted to be remembered for having done something better. We’re fortunate in the art world that art was his passion.”
Morgan Butts, the director of communications for the museum, said Broad knew what was needed in Michigan and by placing the museum on campus, he gave it access to renowned researchers and scholars.
“There aren’t a lot of contemporary art museums in the state of Michigan,” Butts said. “We feel a responsibility to provide access to as many people as possible, which was Broad’s priority.”
Building a legacy of art in Los Angeles
Broad arrived in LA in 1963, where his wife turned him on to collecting art. He and other arts patrons helped create the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in 1979. He served as the founding chairman and negotiated the purchase of 80 abstract expressionist and pop works from Italian businessman and collector Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, who was known for being the first European collector of postwar American art. These works formed the core of MOCA’s permanent collection and gave it instant credibility.
He also spearheaded efforts to complete the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Over his lifetime, he gave more than $50 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to pay for the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, more than $30 million to MOCA, and more than $20 million to underwrite the Richard Meier-designed Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center at UCLA.
Broad underwrote the staging of the Los Angeles Opera’s first production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle. In 2015, he and his wife commissioned the building of The Broad, a museum across from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It displays much of what used to be their private collection.
“Eli saw the arts as a way to strive to build a better world for all,” said Joanne Heyler, founding director of The Broad. “He was a fiercely committed civic leader, and his tenacity and advocacy for the arts indelibly changed LA. He will long be remembered for his unmatched generosity in sharing the arts passionately and widely.”
Broad championed many causes
Outside of LA and MSU, Broad also gave money to Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and California’s Pitzer College.
Broad was committed to making sure everyone had access to art, education, science and technology, and spearheaded efforts to do those things.
“Eli pushed all of us to do better, to dig deeper, to invest more, and to invest smarter to make LA a global epicenter for innovation and culture,” LA Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas said in a statement. “He championed catalytic transformation in the arts and education fields, including creating countless opportunities for young people to advance in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“I will forever be grateful for his commitment to addressing homelessness, as a major backer of Measure H, which was approved by voters in 2017 and generates over $350 million each year to prevent and respond to the moral crisis of our time.”
In 2012, Broad released a book, “The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking,” which became an immediate bestseller.
Broad is survived by his wife, Edye (Lawson) Broad and two sons, Jeffrey and Gary Broad.