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Will LA's Thriving Art Scene Survive the Death of Its Top Booster?

Genius Turner

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Outside of NYC, the City of Angels has the nation's top art scene.(ChrisGoldNY/Flickr)

With the death of billionaire Eli Broad, LA's art scene faces a new challenge

LOS ANGELES — Among degrees offered at colleges, art is understandably listed under the "humanities." After all, from aardvark to zebra, no other species aside from humans can produce art. No wonder it's long been said the capacity for art most notably distinguishes us from animals.

Unlike science which usually has practical value, art is more of a dessert. Perhaps this explains why historically societies only embraced art during flourishing times. When a culture struggles to secure basic necessities, such as food and shelter, needless to say — there's no time for being "artsy."

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life," Picasso once said. Indeed, nothing so elevates human nature above the brutish level of existence than delighting in a Shakespearean play . . . basking in the glow of a sublime piece of music.

To put it simply: a given society is considered "cultured" to the extent it produces great art. Perhaps this explains why the size of an American city usually reflects the size of its art scene.

NYC is the biggest city; NYC has the biggest art scene. LA is the second-largest city; LA has the second-largest art scene. And so on.

The greater the art, the greater the artist's sacrifice! Michelangelo sacrificed four years of his life to finish the Sistine Chapel. No wonder artists have historically leaned on benefactors and patrons.

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Queen Anne of Denmark is among history's greatest patrons of the arts.(Ann Longmore-Etheridge/Flickr)

For centuries, the wealthy and aristocrats wore "Patron of the Arts" as a badge of honor. During the Renaissance, Da Vinci counted the Medici and Borgia among his most loyal patrons. Today, in LA's thriving art scene, one patron's name towers above all others. Eli Broad.

The billionaire Broad stayed true to his name. After all, no other benefactor shouldered such a broad or "outsized" role, as the NY Times puts it, than Broad. This was a "giant" of a benefactor indeed:

[Broad was] a billionaire philanthropist who played an outsized role in creating many of the region’s marquee cultural institutions, among them Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Broad, the Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], and one of the buildings left standing at the LACMA complex. —NY Times

Broad secured the art that would become MOCA's first major acquisition — the collection of Italian Count Guiseppe Biumo di Panza. Today, the collection alone is estimated to be worth $1 billion.

“As a businessman, Eli saw around corners, as a philanthropist, he saw the problems in the world and tried to fix them, as a citizen he saw the possibility in our shared community, and as a husband, father and friend he saw the potential in each of us,” said Gerun Riley, president of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

In short, Broad's death — a month ago — appears to have cast a "broad" shadow over LA's art scene. The question now becomes:

Will LA's thriving art scene survive the death of Its top booster?

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