MUSEUMS WALK A FINE LINE WHEN ACCEPTING BILLIONAIRES’ NAMING GIFTS

When Eli Broad, the art collector and philanthropist, decided to build a museum in downtown Los Angeles, he named it The Broad. That pretty much ruled out asking anybody else for money, said Barry Munitz, a governor of the Broad Foundation. The museum, about to break ground on a Diller Scofidio & Renfro building, will have an initial $200 million endowment and has no plans to seek outside funding, according to Joanne Heyler, who will be its director.

But there’s another Broad museum, this one nearing completion at Michigan State University, in East Lansing. Mr. Broad (pronounced Brode), a Michigan State alumnus, and his wife, Edythe, gave $28 million to that cause — far less than the cost of the museum’s new Zaha Hadid building. And that means the museum’s director, Michael Rush, has to raise money before the museum opens this year. “We still have a few million to go,” he said by phone.

But who will donate to a museum named for one of the wealthiest couples in America? (Its official name is the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.) As Lou Anna K. Simon, the president of Michigan State University, said at an event to publicize the museum, “Some people think Eli can just write another check.” Not only that, but the name on the door suggests that no mater how much a donor contributes, the credit will go to the Broads.

Luckily, Mr. Rush said, the university’s hundreds of thousands of alumni are known for their school spirit. It also helps that the museum is offering naming opportunities; one gallery will bear the name of Edward Minskoff, the New York real estate developer and a Michigan State graduate. Mr. Minskoff wrote in an e-mail that the Broad name, if anything, encouraged him to give. “Eli is one of the most important collectors in the world, and it will only serve to attract other prominent contributors,” he wrote.

Often, though, putting a wealthy donor’s name on the door discourages giving, according to Mr. Munitz and other experts. (He named the Menil Collection in Houston, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis as three museums facing that challenge.)

When Mr. Munitz was president of the J. Paul Getty Trust — endowed by the oil company founder — “it was hard to ask for money with a straight face,” he said. But the trust, he said, is not without need; it is wealthy enough “to do anything it wants to do, which is different from being able to do everything it wants to do.” These days, he said, it seeks donors for some purposes.

Fund-raising may be easier for an institution named for a less towering figure than J. Paul Getty or Eli Broad. The Skirball Cultural Center, a Jewish museum in Los Angeles, was named for Jack Skirball and Audrey Skirball-Kenis, wealthy Californians, but its director, Mr. Munitz said, “has always made it clear that the institutionwouldn’t survive and prosper without other major donors.” One such donor, Lloyd Cotsen, the former president of the skin care products company Neutrogena, endowed what is now known as the Cotsen Auditorium at the Skirball Cultural Center. “There wasn’t the sense that other donors would be in the Skirballs’ shadow,” said Mr. Munitz, who is the president of Mr. Cotsen’s foundation.

In Arkansas, the Crystal Bridges Museum was built with a gift from Alice Walton, an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, and received $800 million in additional funds from the Walton Family Foundation. Don Bacigalupi, the museum’s director, said it had not been difficult to raise additional money. One reason, of course, is that the museum isn’t named Walton.

But even if it had been, Mr. Bacigalupi said, that might not have discouraged donors, because of excitement in the community about the project, which, he said, was fueled by the Walton association.

The museum has signed up 6,000 members, about twice as many as its top executives had expected, since it began its membership program last year. And many of those members gave far more than the $35 minimum — in some cases, thousands of dollars more. Asked if the donors were looking to curry favor with the Waltons — who control much of the economy of this part of Arkansas — Mr. Bacigalupi answered no. After all, being one of thousands of members is akin to being anonymous. Larger donors are not anonymous — the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation gave $10 million to defray the cost of bringing school groups to the museum (even covering lunch and transportation). But Mr. Walker made his money as a Wal-Mart executive, and the Walkers are part of what Mr. Bacigalupi described as a group of prominent families who pitch in to support each other’ projects. He said the museum was benefiting from a “tradition of generosity” in northwest Arkansas.

For more on grants and grant writing, visit Grant Pros.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under ARTS, COMMUNITY

Any comments about this article?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s