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Billionaire Bails Out L.A. Museum

ALEX COHEN, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen. We've seen bailouts for the auto industry and for the banks. Well now, it looks like it's the art world's turn. A few weeks ago on the show, we heard from billionaire Eli Broad, who offered $30 million in assistance to L.A.'s struggling Museum of Contemporary Art, known as MOCA. As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, MOCA has decided to accept Broad's bailout.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: In its three-decade history, MOCA has become one of the most highly regarded museums in the country. Tens of thousands have streamed through MOCA's rose marble building to see exhibitions by Richard Serra, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Takashi Murakami. But while the museum's artistic vision was sure, its finances were anything but.

After months of rumors about its financial collapse, MOCA's trustees announced that the museum was receiving a critically necessary infusion of cash from arts patron Eli Broad. As the museum announced the deal, Broad said the survival of MOCA was central to his vision of a city center for 21st century L.A.

Mr. ELI BROAD (Billionaire Philanthropist): Because I can think of no other city in world history or today that has become great without a vibrant center.

GRIGSBY BATES: MOCA is an important part of a downtown renaissance that includes Walt Disney Concert Hall, another Broad beneficiary, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and the most expensive public school devoted to the arts ever built.

15 million dollars of Broad's grant will match the donor contributions dollar for dollar. The second 15 million, given over five years, will allow the museum to continue to mount important exhibitions like the current one featuring French sculptor Louise Bourgeois.

Part of the negotiations for MOCA involve a regime change. Jeremy Strick, who guided the museum for nine years, stepped down. The board appointed Charles Young, former chancellor of UCLA and an avid collector of contemporary art, to ease MOCA into solvency.

Young said the board had five goals: to keep the museum's current headquarters, to maintain its independence, to make its collections even more widely available to the viewing public, to make sure the quality of those collections remains high, and to restore MOCA's financial health. Young says that may involve some painful cuts.

Mr. CHARLES YOUNG (Director, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art): In an organization like this, a huge amount of expenditures are for staff and personnel. So it'd be awfully hard to see how substantial reductions couldn't be made without eliminating some positions.

GRIGSBY BATES: Something the banking and auto industries have already learned. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.