Hollywood Tapped to Support 'Future of Cities' Initiative

Jonathan Alcorn

With strong studio and agency backing, political advisor and salon maven Donna Bojarsky launches new intiative to reimagine and revitalize Los Angeles.

Political and philanthropic adviser Donna Bojarsky has long reigned as activist Hollywood’s unofficial “queen of conversation.” Her long-running Foreign Policy Roundtable has used the old-fashioned salon format to introduce entertainment industry notables to the new realities of global politics.

At a kickoff event this week, she brought a Beverly Hills living room crowded with movers-and-shakers from virtually every facet of Los Angeles life up to speed on her plans to bring that process back home in a grand new salon whose purpose is nothing less than the reimagination and revitalization of her city’s civic culture. Her new initiative — which is receiving final support from Disney, ABC, Sony Studios, ICM, and CAA — is called Future of Cities: Leading In L.A.

Bojarsky is planning an expanded evening of panel discussions on Oct. 19 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose director, Michael Govan, is one of the effort’s major supporters.

Bojarsky told The Hollywood Reporter that she believes the “silo nature” of L.A.’s civic and cultural life in which people from one field or intellectual endeavor rarely cross paths with anyone but their immediate colleagues has crippled the city’s ability to launch worthwhile projects and retool itself for the realities of 21st Century urban life. Future of Cities aims to bring leaders from diverse fields and backgrounds together to analyze common problems and to spin off targeted projects that might help resolve them.

Sitting in the living room of billionaire philanthropists Tony and Jeanne Pritzker’s ultra-modern, art-filled 49,000 square foot hilltop compound on Tuesday evening, Bojarsky laid out her plans against a glittering vista that seemed to stretch from one end of Wilshire Blvd. to the other.

Among those listening to the discussion were Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood; Los Angeles activist and musician Moby; Zocalo founder and publisher Gregory Rodriguez; KCRW’s general manager Jennifer Ferro; The California Endowment’s Robert K. Ross; former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Manatt, Phelps & Phillips partner Kathleen Brown (sister of Gov. Jerry Brown); Annenberg Foundation director Cynthia Kennard; DWP commissioner and KCRW board chair Michael Fleming; L.A.’s Chief Data Officer Nemani Abhi; California Science Center head Jeff Rudolph; L.A. Magazine’s Mary Melton; Johnny Carson Foundation president and director Allan Alexander; and landscape architect Mia Lehrer; NBC/Universal content chief Jeff Wachtel, social gaming guru Chris DeWolfe; Big Frame co-founder Sarah Penna; and Lootsie CEO Marc Mitchell.

Above the seated Bojarsky’s head was an artwork emblazoned with “1968,” which seemed particularly appropriate since what she envisions is a version of “back to the future.” In part, that involves a return to the original concept of the salon, which historian Jurgen Habermas has called “a theater of conversation and exchange” that created the revolutionary 18th Century notion of the public sphere. In part, it’s because that’s because she hopes Future of Cities will help L.A. recapture a civic dynamism now, she believes, sadly lost.

“There was a moment in the ‘50s where it was a million times better in Los Angeles,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s when we built LACMA and we built the Music Center, and we built KCET, and we brought the Dodgers here. That’s the point when Buffy Chandler said, ‘If you want to be a world-class city, you’d better start building some world-class institutions,’ and then she ran around and built those things.”

One of her new endeavor’s larger goals will be to integrate the diverse economic fields that generate huge profits, but generally stand apart from civic life. Because of her longtime experience in Hollywood, she particularly wants to engage the entertainment industry. Apart from contributions from the Disney family and the company’s then-CEO Michael Eisner, she points out, “Disney Hall was built was built with virtually no money from Hollywood. It's one of the great buildings in the world, and Hollywood did not even participate in it, so that tells you something.

“That sort of silo stuff is really a problem,” she says. “If we want to be a world-class city, things are going to have to change. Mayor Eric Garcetti has said before that one of the biggest impediments he faces is a weak civic fabric and a weak civic leadership. What is different there is change afoot now, for the following reasons: One, cities are now all the rage, so everybody is talking about cities and their potential. We love cities again. They are a center of creativity and synergy, so when a bunch of smart, interesting people get together, then great things can happen.”

The new initiative, she told THR, “is an effort to make civic leadership a shiny new toy. We want to talk about a million different ways to have the city celebrate itself, to understand itself, to challenge itself, to look for some new structures that will allow it to be ready for this century and the next.”

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