Entrepreneur/Philanthropist Eli Broad

The entrepreneur and influential philanthropist discusses his new art museum, The Broad, in downtown Los Angeles.

Eli Broad built two Fortune 500 companies, in different industries: SunAmerica Inc. and KB Home (formerly Kaufman and Broad Home Corporation). After a highly successful five-decade business career, he devoted his attention to philanthropy and, with his wife, established The Broad Foundations, which include The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and The Broad Art Foundation, to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts. Their philanthropy extends to museums, urban education and a number of universities across the U.S. Broad, who was born in the Bronx, NY and grew up in Detroit, is also author of the best seller, The Art of Being Unreasonable. In 2015, he opened his much publicized art museum in downtown Los Angeles, known simply as The Broad.


Tavis: I am always pleased to welcome Eli Broad to this program. He is, of course, the founder of not one, but two Fortune 500 companies, SunAmerica, Inc. and KB Home, and he’s established himself as one of the nation’s most influential philanthropists and art patrons.

On September 20, Mr. Broad opened his 120,000 square foot contemporary art museum here in downtown L.A. simply known as The Broad. The structure houses 2,000 works of art, including the largest collection of famed photographer, Cindy Sherman, and artist, Jeff Koons.

Admission to the museum is free. You heard me right, free for everybody. So you have no excuse not to pay a visit if you’re in L.A. and you can get in, that is. Right now, it’s kind of hard to get in between now and February, I think. I’m going to have ask Mr. Broad for a favor to get in myself. Eli Broad, good to have you on this program, my friend.

Eli Broad: Great to be with you, Tavis.

Tavis: It’s good to see you. I want to spend the majority of our time talking about this museum. Except for the first 45 seconds, I want to read this tweet to you that I know you have been asked about or at least are aware of from Rupert Murdoch: “Strong word Tribune newspaper group to be bought by big Wall Street firm, LA Times to go to philanthropist Eli Broad and local group.” If Rupert Murdoch said it, it must be true.

Broad: It was all news to me [laugh].

Tavis: So is there no truth to this?

Broad: Not that I’m aware of.

Tavis: Yeah. You wouldn’t tell me anyway, though, if it were. If you were doing a deal, you wouldn’t tell me, would you?

Broad: I would, but there’s no truth to it as far as I know.

Tavis: Yeah. What do you mean, as far as you know? You’re Eli Broad. You would know if there were truth to it.

Broad: I don’t know of anything going on. I’ve made inquiries. I’m not aware of anything going on, nor other people at the Chicago Tribune Company.

Tavis: There are those of us who live in this town, though, who believe that local ownership would be a good thing. Your thoughts about that, whether you buy it or not? What about local ownership?

Broad: I believe local ownership would be a great thing for the Los Angeles Times and the people of Los Angeles and Southern California because we would want to invest in the future of the paper, and not just keep cutting the newsroom staff.

Tavis: So at this point, there is no deal in the works.

Broad: There is no deal in the works.

Tavis: Okay. We’ll move on to the museum. Are you happy with what you’ve done?

Broad: I’m delighted with the museum.

Tavis: Yeah. Outside and inside?

Broad: Outside and inside, and I’m delighted with the number of people who have come. The first 100 days, 150,000 people. And then we’ve got reservations up through February. And what’s more important is we’re attracting people that otherwise would not go to a museum. About a fourth of the people are people of color. They bring their families, their kids. It’s just great to see that.

Tavis: I would assume that the major factor–one of the major factors–driving that diversity and the numbers, period, is that you’ve made it free. You didn’t have to do that. Why free?

Broad: Well, we thought about it and our job was how do we get to the broadest possible public? You know, if a family of four want to come, even if we charge $15, that’s $60. So we didn’t want anyone not to be overcome because of the admissions charge.

Tavis: In your life, you didn’t grow up a wealthy kid in Detroit.

Broad: I did not.

Tavis: So in your life, what’s been the role of art, and why do you think that exposing everyday people to art is so important?

Broad: I think it lifts their spirits. I think it stimulates creativity. It got me thinking about things outside a world of business, frankly. I love being with artists as opposed to bankers, lawyers and other business people. They have a different view of the world which is worth listening to and seeing.

Tavis: Tell me about the stuff on the inside of The Broad, the artwork.

Broad: Well, it starts with work of about 1953, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, and then moves forward. We’ve got a great collection of Roy Lichtenstein. You already mentioned earlier the largest collection of Jeff Koons, the largest collection of Cindy Sherman, and a number of other artists.

Tavis: Tell me about the process that one–you, in this case–had to go through to put that museum uniquely situated where it is in downtown, and how you make all of that happen in terms of the architecture, in terms of the–tell me about that process.

Broad: The first thing you need is a collection. My wife was the first collector in our family. We’ve been collecting for 50 years. That’s how we got to 2,000 works. And we want to show these works to the broadest possible public.

We established an art foundation 31 years ago that’s made 8,000 loans to 500 different museums and other venues, and we decided it was time to have a headquarters in Los Angeles because the work was at five different warehouses. We had a small place in Santa Monica that was not open to the public and we thought downtown would be the right place to be.

So we’re delighted to be right next to Walt Disney Concert Hall, across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art, down the street from the Arts High School, across the street from the Colburn School of Music.

Tavis: They say location, location, location, so I guess they’re right, huh?

Broad: They sure are. And by the way, we’re very happy with the Plaza which has a great restaurant, The Otium. The chef comes from the French Laundry and that’s just opening for dinner this week.

Tavis: Tell me about–I’m curious as to your feelings about the revival, if I can put it that way. I think that’s the right word. The revival of the arts scene, the culture scene. I mean, New York is New York and we all love New York, but L.A. is going through this art and culture renaissance in no small part to you. But what do you make of the way our city is starting to turn?

Broad: We’ve become the contemporary art capital of the world. We’ve got great art schools, UCLA, USC, Art Center College, CalArts, etc. We’ve got great artists of international renown here now, and we’ve got more contemporary art museum space than any city in North America, and we’re getting more and more cultural tourists coming because of all that. So I think it’s great for the Los Angeles economy.

Tavis: What makes L.A. so fertile for contemporary art?

Broad: Well, you start with the art schools and then you’ve got great artists who have learned in the last 20 years you don’t have to be in New York to become world famous.

Tavis: Your philanthropy. How do you see the role specifically of your philanthropy?.

Broad: Well, we first signed a giving pledge saying during a lifetime, we’d give away 75%, so we’re involved in three areas. Scientific and medical research, we’re partners with Harvard and MIT in genomics. We’re partners with the University of Southern California, UCLA, UC San Francisco in stem cell research.

Then, of course, the arts which we talked about. And then we’re big believers in the need to improve K through 12 education, not only Los Angeles, but throughout the country. So we’re supporters of grade schools, whether they be public charter schools or other public schools.

Tavis: And yet we still have to accept the fact that, as generous as you and others have been, philanthropy can’t do it all.

Broad: We sure can’t do it all, but we can be a catalyst and be out front and do things that government isn’t prepared to do.

Tavis: So what’s the next big project? Are you finally going to slow down?

Broad: I’m going on holiday soon [laugh].

Tavis: You’ve earned that. You’ve earned that. But at this stage in your life, though, you wanted to get this thing done and, you and your precious wife, you got this project done. Is there another–there’s no other big, big thing like this on your list, is there?

Broad: No. We’re just going to continue to expand what we’re doing in education, which is very, very important, especially dealing with people of color which are not getting the education they deserve. For example, charter schools have a waiting list of about 50,000 parents that can’t get into charter schools. Magnet schools have a big waiting list. So we want to continue to grow the talent necessary to get these schools doing better and reaching out to all communities.

Tavis: We discussed that last time you were on and, next time you come back, we’ll pick up right there. Today I wanted to spend our time talking about the museum. And I should tell you now in case you hadn’t heard, The Broad is open. So for those who are in the Southern California area, again, you heard him say that there’s a wait list now until February.

But if you make a phone call today, at least you can get in in March and you won’t be waiting until June to get in. And for those watching around the country, when you come to L.A., you have to go visit our newest gem. It is called The Broad in downtown Los Angeles courtesy of one Eli Broad and Edie Broad, his precious wife‚Ķ

Broad: You can also get in without reservations if you’re willing to stand in line.

Tavis: Yeah, I should say that, yeah.

Broad: Which might be 30 or 40 minutes during the week, but weekends, it’s a longer wait.

Tavis: There are options.

Broad: There are options.

Tavis: But I need a ticket, though, from you if you can hook me up. Okay. Thank you.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: December 15, 2015 at 2:11 pm