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Eli and Edythe Broad: The Art of Giving Back

They are considered part of a new generation of philanthropists.

Eli and Edythe Broad are carrying on the giving legacy of the Carnegies and the Rockefellers. But, like many of their peers, the Broads are Eli and Edythechoosing to see the fruits of their efforts by giving now, rather than later.

The Broad Foundations have committed an astonishing $2.25 billion to education, the arts and medical research, according to a July Wall Street Journal story that described Eli Broad as part of a “new wave” of philanthropists that include Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

But the Broads are no newcomers to giving back. It was 30 years ago that they started their family foundation and more than 20 since they gave their first $1 million donation. Since then the couple has continued to support the arts but have also been generous backers of public K-12 and higher education, science and civic development.

“My wife and I have a longstanding interest in giving back,” Eli Broad says. “We realized that our children were taken care of and we were very comfortable, so we focused on how we could make the greatest impact on society.”

Projects the Broads have supported include a $100 million program with Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to map the human genome and an ambitious set of initiatives to improve governance and management of public education. Additionally, the Broads recently gave $25 million to create the Broad Institute for Integrative Biology and Stem Cell Research at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

“We decided that public education was the area of greatest need, so that has been the cornerstone of our foundation. Additionally, we support scientific and medical research,” Broad says.

Broad says his support for public education comes from his own upbringing. “I am a product of public schools. I grew up in Detroit and attended Detroit public schools and a land grant university—Michigan State University,” he says. “So I believe very strongly in supporting public education institutions. I believe that my education is one of the keys to my success in business.”

The son of Lithuanian immigrants, Broad was the first in his family to earn a college degree. “Education is the great equalizer,” he says. “I believe there is no greater foundation for an individual’s success in life than education. And today, a college education is a requirement for anyone to get a good job.”

His first company, Kaufman and Broad Home Corporation (later KB Home), was also the first homebuilder to go public and the first homebuilder to be listed on theNew York Stock Exchange. He later bought Sun Life Insurance Company of America Inc. and turned its focus toward retirement planning.

Broad’s interest in art is attributed to his wife of 51 years, Edythe. “Actually, Edye got me interested in art more than 30 years ago,” he says. “I was working ridiculously long hours, and Edye would go along with me on business trips. So while I worked, she would visit museums and art galleries and would buy little pieces here and there.

“And one day I recognized the artist’s name—which meant that this was not an inexpensive purchase. It was a Toulouse- Lautrec lithograph. I immediately started paying attention to Edye’s hobby.”

The couple is now considered among the top collectors of modern art in the world. And while they have amassed a personal collection topping 750 works by more than 100 artists, they believe that art needs to be available to the public, not locked away from view. To that end they created The Broad Art Foundation as a lending library for contemporary art. The upcoming Robert Therrien show at Sac State’s Library Gallery is one example of the Foundation’s efforts to bring the works of contemporary artists to a larger audience.

Their support of Sacramento State also includes a $2 million leadership gift to build a new field house as part of the University’s Sports and Recreation Complex. The Broad Athletic Facility will include a weight room, locker rooms, coaches’ offices and meeting space for football and track and field.

In addition, Broad is helping in the University’s efforts to build a campus in Placer County, an area where his family has owned land for decades.

“The region has grown over the years,” he says, “and it is exciting for me to be involved with Sacramento State, helping them to bring public higher education to Placer County. I am happy to support the vision they have for their existing campus and the impact they have on the entire region.”

- Laurie Hall

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