July 1, 2002 - From the July, 2002 issue

Jane Pisano Articulates Case For Urban Revitalization

The Museum of Natural History will soon undergo a major renovation, marking another enhancement to the neighborhood around Exposition Park and the USC campus. Over the past 10+ years, USC has promoted, with a great deal of success, community development in the area in an attempt to revitalize this long neglected part of the city. Jane Pisano was a key figure in leading these changes in her various roles in the USC administration. Last year, Ms. Pisano assumed the position of Director and President of the Natural History Museum. TPR is pleased to present this interview with Jane Pisano about the role institutions can play in neighborhood development.


Jane Pisano

Having once presided over LA 2000, share with us your current assessment of urban Los Angeles' capacity to manage its continuous growth. What's the role of civic vision and leadership in such revitalization efforts.

Leadership and vision are everything. Los Angeles and other great cities in America have enormous potential and those that are achieving their destiny are ones that have experienced and benefited from extraordinary leadership, which implies the vision and the will to realize that vision.

It's interesting that your leadership positions, both at the University of Southern California and now at the Natural History Museum, place you in the core of urban Los Angeles. For a number of decades, people were fleeing the core for the promise of the suburbs. You've been involved in institutions that want to revitalize our urban centers. What needs to happen for these revitalization efforts to bear fruit?

The revitalization efforts are already bearing fruit. When I think about the neighborhood where I've worked for the past decade and more, the USC campus area and Exposition Park have really been transformed by the efforts of the University of Southern California and truly meaningful community based partnerships.

While it is true that Los Angeles has too many pockets of poverty and under-capitalized areas, it's also true that the shifting nature of the economy, the changes in economic base and the growth of new industries have contributed to a sense of vitality in the city, and sustained what I love about it so much, which is the creativity and innovation that seem to somehow be continually regenerated here.

The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and USC are emerging as the models of what urban research-based universities can do to reinvest and revitalize their inner-city neighborhoods. What should be the lessons that we take from these two universities' experiences?

It's interesting that you would choose those two examples. Each university went about its task in a quite different way. The University of Pennsylvania has undertaken something that's more a classic urban redevelopment model with significant investments in urban improvements in the areas around the campus.

The University of Southern California took much more of an approach that develops the human and social capital and infrastructure. Much of what USC has done has been relatively speaking low cost, high impact, and relies on partnerships, human energy, and community concentration and focus around a goal.

These are certainly arenas where urban universities have a role to play. But urban universities have broader roles to play as well. Here USC, Penn, UCLA and other urban research universities have an awful lot in common.

What do Penn and USC have in common? Elaborate.

What they are is research engines. Those research engines are attracting hundreds of millions of federal dollars into our city on behalf of research, which eventually manifests itself in new technologies and new industries. The single biggest thing that a research university can do for a city is to excel at achieving its core mission, which is research and, of course, teaching.

All of these universities are attracting students who are bringing their tuition dollars and disposable income into cities as well. Higher education is the largest export industry in the city of Los Angeles, but customers come to our loading dock. These economic engines that research universities provide are tremendously important in providing jobs and are the seed corn for the economy of the future.

Jane, you were long involved in managing the nexus between USC and our county health care system. Yet it's been very difficult to translate our health care infrastructure into a foundation for a biotech industry here in Los Angeles. San Diego, instead, has emerged as a biotech center. What's the potential for the dots ever being connected to benefit not only the users of the health care system, but the investors and the economic drivers that interrelate with healthcare?

Our missing link is land. In Los Angeles, we don't have a critical mass of land that can be aggregated so that we can not only make the scientific discovery, but also translate that discovery into products, and then bring those products to market. It's in the manufacturing of the product, which is what can be done in large-scale biotech parks, that thousands and thousands of jobs are provided.

The trick to having a really successful biotech park is to have the research engine, the university, next to many acres of land so you can go from research and development to commercialization to manufacture to market. We don't have that.

What can L.A. do to compensate?

We ought to be putting a premium on incentives that would cause enough land to be identified for reuse so we can establish the manufacturing close to what is a truly remarkable research engine fueled by USC, UCLA and CalTech. But I'm thinking primarily about the major medical schools here because so much of the research is funded by NIH.

USC has tried in the past to establish a biotech park in the East L.A. area. The wonderful thing about biotech parks is they provide a whole spectrum of employment, from entry-level right through Ph.D. That would be really good news for under-capitalized parts of our city where many people are qualified for jobs but under-employed.

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Jane, changing subjects, you've also been involved in two L.A. based philanthropies-the Haynes Foundation and the California Community Foundation. What's the actual role of philanthropy in Southern California? Have we been maximizing the resources here to achieve that goal?

The most important thing to recognize about philanthropy is that, despite the appearance of vast riches in foundations, foundations actually have a very little to spend compared to the amount of money spent by government on schools, by the county on health care, and so forth. So foundations have to be smart and leverage their dollars to have the greatest impact on organizations or policies that fit their missions.

The biggest wish that I would have for philanthropy, is that leaders of philanthropic organizations, and government leaders would communicate more and work together more to find ways to replicate successful experiments and/or to enable philanthropic dollars leverage larger-scale social change.

So how successful have these multi-sector conversations been? How successfully have our philanthropic institutions been encouraging such conversations?

I don't think that kind of conversation is occurring, and it needs to. We have an interesting environment for philanthropy here in Southern California. We have a lot of new foundations. We have a lot of first generation foundations.

There has been a profound change in philanthropy in my 25 years in Los Angeles. When I came here, if you wanted to get something done, you went to ARCO. That was the gold standard. And after you got money from ARCO, then you went to Security Pacific Bank, Bank of America, Times Mirror, First Interstate Bank, etc. They all fell in line and arrayed themselves around ARCO. Today, each of these institutions has one thing in common: they're no longer here.

We've seen the demise of what was the bedrock of philanthropy in Southern California 25 years ago, and the rise of new institutions, some of them very large, like the foundations from health care conversions, and others that are smaller, but the result of individual fortunes. We turn to them to fill the void left when corporations were merged or acquired. The reality is that many of these foundations are new and getting established.

Organizations like the California Community Foundation have a very large role to play, and larger now in many ways than before because of the demise of the corporate headquarters and their foundations. The California Community Foundation is working hard to define itself as a leader in this new world order too.

Let's turn now to what the challenges were that motivated you to leave USC and take on the Presidency and Directorship at the Natural History Museum. What attracted you to this museum?

There were two things that caused me to come. The first was the development of a strategic plan that included a new mission and vision for the museum. The old mission statement, to paraphrase was, "We are what we do:" we do research, we educate, we take care of our collections. The new mission statement is, "To inspire wonder, discovery and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds." The institution took a radical turn, from it's all about us, to it's all about the public that we serve. I found that compelling and exciting.

The second reason I decided to come was I knew that the museum had very great aspirations, including nothing less than the reinvention of the Natural History Museum in the 21st century. This includes a major renovation and building project, which will preserve our historic structures, and build a new facility that will enable us to take better care of our collections, make them more accessible to the public, and tell the story of our natural and cultural worlds in a way that will be more accessible and compelling to the people of Los Angeles and the people who visit here.

Jane, your building campaign must compete for attention with a number of other cultural campaigns in the city, whether it's the LACMA or the Japanese American National Museum, to name only two. Given the dot-com implosion, how will you manage to get attention for your enterprise?

Each of these institutions is distinctive. We're fortunate that Los Angeles is large and diverse. A large number of high net-worth individuals live here. The support for these institutions tends to be fairly particular to the institution, although I grant you that there are individuals and institutions who support multiple organizations.

The key to a successful campaign is a compelling vision, a real need, and the skills and will to raise the money. It's not magic. Unless the whole economy falls apart, I really think it's about leadership and commitment, passion and good ideas. Many people want to leave a legacy and to do so through our cultural institutions.

Last question, Jane. You're bullish on Los Angeles. For our readers and those outside of Los Angeles, elaborate on why you're so bullish on Los Angeles.

I've been bullish on Los Angeles since the day I arrived in 1977. I deeply believe in the resilience of the people of Los Angeles. I completely believe in the enriching force and potential that our diversity provides. We have a solid economic base, one that's capable of reinventing itself. We have certainly seen that in the last 25 years.

Overall and for all the problems - we do not have not enough affordable housing, our traffic is horrible, we could list a whole litany of things - I really believe in the creativity, the innovation, and the resilience of the people who live here and their demonstrated capacity to continue to reinvent ourselves and our communities. That's really the basis of my faith.

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