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Step up for MOCA

As Eli Broad wrote in the Opinion pages last Saturday, Los Angeles is “not a one-philanthropist town.” It isn’t, but it sure can seem that way. When this city’s civic institutions struggle, it’s Broad to whom the leadership reflexively turns. Charter schools, museums and the occasional newspaper all have imagined him as their savior, to the point that spending Broad’s money is close to a parlor game in certain civic circles.

The latest flailing cultural center is the Museum of Contemporary Art. Its endowment is collapsing, and the state attorney general wants information as part of the office’s mission to oversee nonprofits in California (this interest may be routine, but it’s rarely good news to get a letter from an attorney general). Without quick work, the museum faces the possibility of losing its Grand Avenue location, a development that would sadly deprive downtownof a small but lively arts hub, tucked in the middle of what Broad and others envision as a remade civic center with Disney Hall and the museum as two of its jewels.

Los Angeles has been in this predicament before, and it was Broad who was largely responsible for getting us out of it. After years of inaction amid the city’s troubled economy, what now stands as Disney Hall was, in the early 1990s, a parking garage with no building on top, a symbol of a city that could not right itself. Then-Mayor Richard Riordan appointed Broad to take over fundraising for the project, and Broad succeeded where so many others had failed. For a billionaire, Broad is -- as Riordan himself likes to joke -- very good at getting others to give money.

Today, this city needs its philanthropists more than it has in years. Not only cultural institutions but nonprofits of alltypes and concerns are struggling. Foundation support is hard to come by, and many would-be donors are licking their wounds from their Wall Street losses.

Broad, who was a founding board member of MOCA, has challenged other philanthropists to join him in saving the museum. He has offered $30 million of his art foundation’s money to sweeten the pot, provided others will step up as well. This is a decisive moment in Los Angeles’ cultural history, and grateful though we are for Broad’s offer, it should not fall to him alone to rescue MOCA. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa should take a page from Riordan’s book and appoint a fundraising committee for the museum, ideally with Broad at its head. Its mission should first and foremost be to find donors to match Broad’s offer; its larger undertaking should be to prove, as Broad and company did a decade ago, that this city can protect its most vital institutions not just in a booming economy but in a troubled one as well.


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