Self-Made Millionaire and Collector Eric Smidt Donates $25 Million to LACMA

The rags-to-riches philanthropist gives back.

Susan Smidt and Eric Smidt arrive at LACMA in. Photo Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for LACMA
Susan Smidt and Eric Smidt arrive at LACMA in. Photo Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for LACMA

Philanthropists and contemporary art collectors Eric and Susan Smidt have donated a whopping $25 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)’s current campaign. The donation will support general museum growth, community programming, and plans for a new building set to open in 2023, designed by Peter Zumthor.

The announcement of the gift came directly before the star-studded LACMA Art+Film Gala, which took place on October 30 and raised over $3.6 million.


Mr. Schmidt, a self-made multi-millionaire from Los Angeles, sits on the LACMA board of trustees. But he wasn’t handed success. His mother afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis and he was sent to an orphanage as a child while his father took care of her. After moving out on his own at age 16, he started a mail-order hardware business, now known as Harbor Freight Tools, with his father. By age 25 he was president of the company, and now he uses his success to help the Los Angeles arts community flourish.

“When I joined the LACMA board, I realized what I missed in my youth and the wonderful things that can happen when a public museum opens its doors to the community,” Mr. Smidt said in a statement. “I feel so lucky now to be able to help open those doors for others, especially kids with the kinds of challenges I had, so they too can benefit from the amazing art here at LACMA and the new worlds it offers.”

The Smidt’s donation raises the museum’s current fundraising campaign to $300 million, of a $475 million goal. In the past, the couple have donated anonymously, but going public will hopefully encourage others to donate to the institution and support the art community.

Mrs. Smidt said: “We believe that art is education. We want to encourage everyone to take advantage of this wonderful and important community resource, and we hope our support will help LACMA do even more, now and long into the future.”


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