Why Is The Art World Enamored With LA Politician Bobby Shriver?
Gagosian, Gehry, and Govan are supporting him for L.A. County Supervisor.
An invitation is making the rounds in Los Angeles. Architect Frank Gehry and his wife Berta are inviting people to a party at the offices of Gehry Partners on September 24 for former Santa Monica city council member and mayor Bobby Shriver in his bid for the L.A. County supervisor seat.
“Bobby Shriver and his wife Malissa have been longtime dedicated advocates for the arts in our community,” wrote Gehry in a statement posted on Shriver’s campaign website. “They deeply understand the link between creativity, innovation and commerce. I’m pleased to support Bobby’s run for Supervisor where he can affect change at a bigger scale and help realign art, education and progress.”
In his first filing since the June primary vote, Shriver reported receiving $298,000 from flashy names in business, like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Bill and Melinda Gates. From the film and television industry he’s gotten support from director Steven Spielberg, actor Tom Hanks, and actress Renee Zellweger among many others, as well as members of his politically eminent family including his sister NBC special correspondent Maria Shriver.
But his ability to attract bigwigs isn’t limited to those areas alone. A striking contingent of his support hails from the arts community. Contributors to his campaign include artist Ed Ruscha and his wife Danna, Eli and Edythe Broad, collector Michael Hort, fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg, executive director of the LA County Arts Comission Laura Zucker, architect Richard Meier, artist Alex Israel, co-curator of Pacific Standard Time Presents Wim de Wit, LACMA director Michael Govan, and the director of Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills Deborah McLeod.
Perhaps the most prominent supporter is power dealer Larry Gagosian who threw a cocktail party for the candidate in February. On June 2, the day before the primaries, Gagosian Beverly Hills urged its followers via Twitter to support him: “Angelenos! Go out and vote tomorrow for friend of the Arts #BobbyShriver!”
This isn’t the first time the two have teamed up. In 2008, Shriver and Gagosian joined forces with Sotheby’s, Damien Hirst and many other artists for the (Red) auction to support Product Red, an organization founded by Shriver and Bono that raises private funds to fight HIV/AIDS. With the Gagosian engine behind it, that auction, which included a host of red works by some of the biggest names in contemporary art including Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, and Richard Prince, raised $40 million and is one of the highest grossing charity auctions of contemporary art ever held. “If we had tried to conduct the sales ourselves, we certainly wouldn’t have gotten these numbers,” Bono told the New York Times after the auction. “This is serious stuff, serious money.”
Why are so many creative power players getting behind Shriver?
Firstly, the district, which includes Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Malibu, and the San Fernando Valley, has historically been important to the arts.
“The Third district has played a leadership role in maintaining grants for more than 380 LA-based arts organizations and many other cultural programs,” said Zucker. She estimates that the total spent on arts and culture in the county ranges from $80-100 million in any given year, which gets divided among the county’s five cultural departments. A look at the “2014-2015 Recommended Budget” confirms this. For the 2013/2014 fiscal year, there’s roughly $30 million in the budget for LACMA, $17.3 million for the Museum of Natural History, $22.8 million for the Music Center, a little over $10 million for the Arts Commission, and $1 million for LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes.
“The county provides a lot of safety net services for the region, including operating hospitals, general relief programs, and the sheriff’s department,” said Zucker when asked if the incoming supervisor has big shoes to fill. “But then of course there are the quality of life issues. As the outgoing supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky, has often said, nobody comes to LA for the traffic and the potholes. In other words, even if you solve all of the problems, you still need to have a there there.”
“Bobby has a presence in the local art world which is important [because] Los Angeles is uniquely positioned as a growing art capital,” Heather Harmon, co-founder of Champions of Culture told artnet News over email. “It is a pivotal time in which growth in the arts and education are crucial. The county must increase its investment in nonprofit cultural organizations, and Bobby wants to support and foster the work of the LA County Arts Commission by increasing resources. He has an excellent track record in the type of out of the box thinking that is needed to bring new ideas to the table. From producing Christmas records to support the Special Olympics to co-founding (RED) to use art and artists to raise money and awareness to fight HIVAIDS.”
A quick look at Shriver’s website shows that he strives to make L.A. a “World class arts destination, like New York or Paris” and lists the Getty’s groundbreaking show “Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA, 1945-1980,” which generated nearly $300 million and created thousands of jobs, as an “economic driver.”
Shriver’s wife, Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, is a former chairman of the California Arts Council and currently co-chairs the state arts education Task Force. She serves on several regional and national arts boards, and is Frank Gehry’s political advocacy adviser.
Support of the arts is also something of a Kennedy birthright, in particular that of Jackie Kennedy whose support, during her time in the White House among other achievements, was critical to the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts. “At an early stage, she recognized that art was a way in which to bridge disparate communities through shared visions and struggles” said Harmon, who is co-hosting the party at Gehry Partners, about Jackie Kennedy. “Bobby will carry on this legacy and foster opportunities for local communities to connect through the arts and art education.”
Shriver, for his part, has made no bones about touting the family name, dusting off old photos of himself with various members of the Kennedy clan and posting them to his campaign website and Twitter.
It’s not clear that his family legacy and all of this backing by powerhouses will end in a win come November. In the primaries, former State Legislator Sheila Kuehl, his opponent for the seat, beat him by seven percentage points (he brought in 29 percent of the vote to her 36). But at least within the art world, the romance of Camelot lives on.
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