UCLA School of Arts and Architecture Commencement Address By Eli Broad
June 17, 2006
Chancellor Carnesale, Dean Waterman, distinguished faculty, parents, friends, family and most of all, Class of 2006.
Thank you for bestowing the honor of the UCLA Medal on me and my wife Edye. We are humbled to join past recipients like Jimmy Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Gehry, Quincy Jones and Laurence Olivier. And I know what many of you are thinking…
It’s OK. You’re probably wondering, “who is this gray-haired guy standing up here, and why should I care what he has to say?”
One of the benefits of being 73 years young is that I’ve been through quite a few of the experiences that lie ahead of you. I’ve had my share of stumbles and failures, and I’ve also had my share of successes. So I hope to impart a little wisdom to you as you leave today, diploma in hand, dreams intact and aspirations set high.
This afternoon, I’m going to talk about three things:
- Why the arts matter
- Why it’s important to take risks and not follow conventional wisdom
- And why it’s important to give back
I have a confession to make. I’m not an artistic person. I can’t paint or draw. I have no musical ability. And I certainly can’t dance or sing. But I love the arts… for the simple reason that they make our society and our existence better.
Because I don’t have any artistic skill or talent, my contribution is to support the arts – for this and future generations.
I have always had an interest in architecture, but I became interested in the other arts more than 30 years ago. It was actually my wife, Edye, who got me hooked on art. At the time, I was working ridiculously long hours, and Edye would go along with me on business trips. So while I worked, Edye would visit museums and art galleries, and she would buy little pieces here and there. And I really paid very little attention to this hobby of hers. Every now and then, a new painting or sketch would appear on our walls at home.
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. I wanted to know how much she had paid for the poster, where she got it and what she knew about it. Edye jokes that when I got interested in art, our acquisition budget went up.
What I love about art – and probably the reason that I’ve been drawn to contemporary art – is being able to talk to the artists and architects. Up to that point, I had been spending all of my time with business people – lawyers, bankers, investors, and I thought there must be more to the world than their way of thinking. Getting involved in the arts and meeting the artists gave me a broader perspective and made me a better person.
As artists, you will have an impact on people – moreso than lawyers, engineers, accountants or corporate CEOs – because your work will touch people… move them… disturb them…. fill them with joy and enlightenment.
Many of you probably faced skepticism when you told your parents, your family and your friends that you wanted to study art and architecture. I’m here to tell you that you made the right decision.
You have attended one of the top arts and architecture schools in the country. You have learned from and studied under some of the most esteemed faculty members in the arts today. And now you are joining the renowned ranks of UCLA arts and architecture graduates, and your adventure is about to begin.
Our society will always need artists. We will always crave beauty and the artistic aesthetics of your craft.
Beyond the aesthetic, the arts are a vital and valuable contributor to our nation’s economy. Consider these facts:
Eleven of the country’s 20 largest cities have more than 10,000 arts-related institutions and organizations. These include museums, symphonies and theaters, as well as film, architecture and advertising companies. Nationally, there are more than 548,000 businesses involved in the production and delivery of the creative industries, and they employ nearly 3 million people.
If you look back in history, what do we remember about civilizations? Do we remember who their lawyers were? Who their accountants were? We remember their architects, their artists, their dancers and their musicians.
You have chosen a noble calling, one that is more important for our nation than just another doctor or engineer or lawyer.
In a speech honoring the great American poet Robert Frost, President Kennedy said, “I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”
America has become the international leader in the visual and performing arts. Our reputation has been tarnished because of our politics and foreign policy, but our arts have risen in global stature. The rest of the world may disagree with our country’s leadership and our politics, but there is no question that the world appreciates American art, music, dance and architecture.
For prior generations, France, Italy and other European nations were pre-eminent in the arts. The tide has turned. The second half of the 20th century and the 21st century truly is the Artistic Age of America. I was recently in London, and the National Gallery had an exhibition of American artists in Paris in the 1800s. Several months ago, the Pompidou Centre in Paris exhibited not just great American artists, but California artists. And UCLA had a strong presence in that exhibit.
American arts and architecture are leading the world. You are our future. You will continue to establish our country’s place as the artistic capital of the world.
I am convinced that sitting out there in this sea of caps and gowns is this generation’s great architect, great artist, great musician, great dancer. I hope you believe in your potential for greatness. Your professors do. Your family does. Your friends do. And so do I.
Chances are, you have pursued a degree in the arts because you were compelled to. Some force inside of you – let’s call it passion – called your name and said, “you must sculpt. You must paint. You must sketch. You must design great buildings. You must fill the world with music.” And indeed you have.
The second thing I want to talk about is why it’s important to take risks and not follow conventional wisdom.
George Bernard Shaw probably said it best when he said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
No one ever made a million bucks by being cautious or timid or reasonable. I was 22 years old and recently married when I had the crazy idea that I should give up my career as a CPA and become a homebuilder. I didn’t know anything about building houses. Sometimes the craziest ideas are the ones that yield the greatest payoffs. I took the risk in 1953 of building houses without basements – something that hadn’t been done in the Midwest -- because the monthly mortgage payment would be less than what most people were paying for rent.
I took a risk 40 years ago when our company started building houses in France. And I took a risk when we took a 100-year-old life insurance company and changed it into a retirement savings company. All these risks have paid off for me, for my family and certainly for our shareholders.
Great artists and architects and musicians also take risks.
Consider the unconventional architect who took the risk of using galvanized stainless steel, chain link, anodized aluminum, corrugated cardboard, brass and copper as the canvas for his many designs. And among the results? Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the architect was Frank Gehry.
Consider the artist who draped 1 million square feet of silver fabric around Germany’s Reichstag and tied it with 10 miles of blue rope. That same artist just last year hung 7,500 orange fabric “gates” in New York’s Central Park. The result was an environmental art exhibit that was viewed by more than 1 million visitors – who generated more than $250 million in revenue for the city -- and the artist was Christo.
Consider the aging jazz trumpeter who was fascinated with the sounds of Jimmy Hendrix and began experimenting with jazz, funk and rock. The result was the genre known today as fusion, and the musician was Miles Davis.
All of these artists took risks that paid off in a big way… not just for themselves. The risks redefined their art.
What risks will you take, how unreasonable will you be, and what will be the result? I hope that in ten or 20 years, the graduation speaker at this school’s commencement will talk about how you have changed the landscape of your art.
The third thing I want to tell you today is that no matter how successful you are, it’s important to give back.
We live in the greatest country in the world. Besides the democratic and artistic freedoms we are afforded, we also have the greatest wealth of any country on earth. But with those riches comes a responsibility to give back.
I consider myself fortunate to have had four careers: CPA, homebuilder, CEO of a retirement planning company, and now philanthropist. And my current career is the most rewarding.
In addition to improving urban public education, advancing scientific and medical research, and supporting civic initiatives here in Los Angeles, we also focus our philanthropy on the arts.
When Edye and I started collecting art, we had no idea that our passion would grow so quickly. In a very short period of time, we ran out of walls in our home to hang the art that we bought. So we created The Broad Art Foundation as a lending library of contemporary art. Today, it has more than 1,200 artworks that we loan to museums and galleries all over the world. Our collection will live on long after we’re gone. And that is just one small way we can give back and share the art that we have grown to love and appreciate.
We’ve always had a special place in our heart for art students.
A few years back, I was in New York at a Sotheby’s auction, and I purchased a painting by Roy Lichtenstein. When it came time to settle my account, I discovered that I could put the purchase on my American Express card. I didn’t hesitate, because I knew that I would take the 2.5 million miles that I earned and donate them to art students to study art around the world.
I know that as you sit here today… with all the tests and classes and papers behind you… and your careers still ahead of you… it’s hard to think that you’ll be so successful you’ll want to share your wealth.
But I’m here to tell you that giving back doesn’t always mean money. It means sharing your time and your talent – or even your airline miles.
Giving back could be volunteering to teach students your art… or providing pro bono services to a non-profit… or if you’re fortunate, as Edye and I have been, you could even create a new facility for future generations of students. I hope you’ll come back in September when the Broad Art Center opens.
So I think this 73-year youngster has gone on long enough. But I want to share three final thoughts that are not original, but I hope you’ll carry them with you as you go on to great careers:
Do what you love.
Love what you do.
And always give back.
Thank you for allowing me to share your special day with you. I wish you much success and look forward to the artistic creations that will shape the future of the Class of 2006.
Congratulations, and best of luck.