The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has received a $25 million donation from one of its trustees who once lived in an orphanage.
The donation, which was officially announced Saturday, comes from Harbor Freight Tools Chief Executive Officer Eric Smidt and his wife, Susan, and will go toward a planned $650 million, 368,000-square-foot building by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.
“I was born here in Los Angeles and wasn’t exposed to art as a child,” Smidt said in a prepared statement. “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. 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.’
Smidt, whose family struggled to care for his ailing mother, spent part of his childhood in an orphanage, found high school challenging and finally moved out on his own at age 16.
In his early 20s, Smidt and his father co-founded what is now Harbor Freight Tools, which sells discount tools and equipment. He has served on LACMA’s board of trustees for about 10 years.
His wife praised LACMA’s welcoming atmosphere and how that fits perfectly with the couple’s personal goals.
“LACMA’s openness and accessibility are particularly meaningful to us, as education is one of our passions. 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.”
The giant gift will be used as part of a campaign to raise money for a new addition to the facility on Wilshire Boulevard.
The Smidt donation puts LACMA roughly half-way to its goal when added to other contributions, which include a promised $50-million from Las Vegas resort magnate Elaine Wynn, a $25-million pledge from former Univision Chairman A. Jerrold Perenchio and $125 million from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
As planned, the proposed Zumthor building will replace four of the museum’s seven buildings and will allow the museum to showcase more of its permanent collection.