Michael Milken, better known as the “junk bond king,” has spent a lifetime trying to reinvent himself. He went from working at a diner during high school to becoming one of the highest-paid financiers of all time. Then he was convicted of securities fraud and served time in prison before eventually remaking himself again as a philanthropist for medical research. So it may not be surprising that Milken is adding a new item to his CV—as a museum founder of sorts.
The Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream, a 60,000-square-foot exhibition space in Washington, DC will open in 2023 (on the Fourth of July).
“It will tell the story of American Dream through the eyes of people who have sought the American Dream, but we’ll also be asking people to define their American Dream,” Kerry Murphy Healey, the center’s president, told Artnet News. Healey took the job last year after previously serving as president of Babson College, in Massachusetts, where she was also the state’s lieutenant governor.
“We’re trying to capture those stories and the evolution of the idea of the American Dream,” she said, adding that that includes recording interviews with some 10,000 people on the subject. “We want to weave storytelling into what we do, so that whoever comes through the doors, they find the stories of people like them inside.”
The center will be housed in the Riggs National Bank building on Pennsylvania Avenue, just a few steps from the White House. Its architect is Shalom Baranes Associates, which also renovated the Pentagon and the Main Treasury Building, among other DC landmarks.
“We’re interviewing multichannel design firms to help us envision the space, which will include the newest technology but also historic documents from partners who have been reaching out to us,” Healey said. “And there will be art created by the public that relates to the American Dream, so we expect to have an ongoing effort to solicit submissions, whether for essays, photographs, spoken word poems, or film, to flesh out the tapestry of the American Dream.”
But it won’t just be art created by we the people, Healey revealed. “We’re building a five-story, modern atrium,” she said, “and we are hoping to solicit proposals for public art in January 2021.”
Forbes ranks Milken the 606th wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth of around $3.7 billion as of 2018. He developed the market for junk bonds and became the highest-paid bond trader of all time in the go-go late 1980s, racking up $1 billion over four years. Indicted for racketeering and securities fraud, he ultimately pleaded guilty to securities and reporting violations and served two years of a 10-year sentence. He was also fined $600 million and banned from the securities industry by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Since then, Milken has been busy funding medical research, focusing especially on prostate cancer, of which he is a survivor. In 2004, Fortune magazine wrote that Milken had “turned the cancer establishment upside down,” raising the visibility of prostate cancer and seriously boosting funding to fight the disease. George Washington University re-branded its school of public health with his name in 2014 in acknowledgement of a $50 million gift. He also founded the Milken Institute, a think thank with offices in Washington, London, and Singapore.
Adding a perhaps more dubious distinction to his career, President Trump pardoned Milken in February, reportedly at the urging of Rudy Giuliani, the same man who once pursued him as a prosecutor.