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Columbia Business Monthly

Banks’ Art Investments Are Investments in Community

Jan 02, 2018 01:52PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Rachel Haynie

Art factors quite solidly into the quality of life equation sought by commerce and dwellers; therefore, developers tout it as well.

So, for a community and its local artists to have one of its stalwart institutions as a supportive muse is a definite Brush Up – way better than a thumbs up.

Continuing through mid-January is immediate evidence of banking’s support of art at the local level. Columbia Museum of Art (CMA) has had on view since mid-September 2017 “Henri Matisse: Jazz & Poetry on Paper,” an opportunity for Columbia to take in and bring guests to see one of the essential European artists of the modern era in one of his most personal and experimental genres.

How did Columbia  get this stunning Matisse exhibition?

Thank Bank of America.

To make art accessible to the communities it serves, BofA converted its burgeoning corporate art collection into a unique community resource known as “Art in Our Communities.” Since 2008, 120 museums and nonprofit galleries worldwide have borrowed, at no cost, complete or customized exhibitions comprised of works of art from the sweeping BofA collection.

Providing these exhibitions sparks community engagement at civic and educational levels and helps the museums that host them generate vital revenue.

CMA’s Matisse exhibition follows an earlier block-buster exhibition partnership with BofA: “From Marilyn to Mao,” 55 works by Andy Warhol, which was on view in 2015.

At the September media preview of the Matisse exhibit, Kim Wilkerson, South Carolina and Columbia marketing president, explained, “BofA is a leading supporter of the arts worldwide because we believe that a thriving arts and culture sector benefits economies and societies.”

Wilkerson, featured in Columbia Business Monthly’s November 2017 Women in Banking coverage, said in just the two most recent years, BofA has given more than $2 million in support of the arts in South Carolina.

“We are excited to again be partnering with the CMA to bring a second exhibition to Columbia through the Art in our Communities program so that individuals and families can discover a world-renowned artist.”

That dynamic is a corporate to institutional partnership. Over decades, numerous Columbia area artists have benefited from individual relationships with banks. Sometimes the support has been in commissions and outright purchases. The support other times has been a distinguished venue in which to showcase art. 

For years, banks have recognized that hanging artworks depicting familiar locales and subject matter in their public spaces creates a visual note of inclusion. Canvases became welcome mats.

“For our building at 1230 Main St. in downtown Columbia, First Citizens Bank made an intentional effort to source art from South Carolina artists,” said Sharon Bryant, regional executive vice president for First Citizen’s South Region. Art by leading Palmetto State artists is on display in various locations throughout the bank.

Well before its extensive renovation earlier this decade, one of the bank’s civic hallmarks had been support of art - and all the arts. Bryant said, “The support stems from the bank’s commitment to build strong and vibrant communities where we live and work, and to ensure that those communities have financial and cultural resources necessary to thrive and grow. First Citizens is proud of its tradition of fostering arts and cultural organizations.”

In years during which the South Carolina State Fair Art Show included a special purchase award program, First Citizens sponsored one of the awards. At the end of the fair, that juror-chosen work of art entered the bank’s growing collection.

Rob Shaw still derives benefits emanating from the selection of his “Green Mist on Gervais” being awarded as Best of Show in the Professional Division in 2008. “I don’t know that I’ve sold more paintings because of the award, but new students joined my painting class at Havens Gallery because of it.”

Pieces from Donna Rozier’s “City Scapes” series have enhanced First Citizens’ walls while abstracting some of Columbia’s downtown banking icons.

Anne Hightower-Patterson White also had her award-winning work purchased and displayed, at First Citizens and BofA.

When Carolina First occupied its custom space adjacent to CMA (before TD Bank occupied it), it acquired paintings by Columbia artist Blue Sky. Lynn Sky recalls local art was installed in public spaces, private conference rooms, and offices.

Carolina First also offered local artists exhibition space, on a rotating basis. Michael Story was invited to use the bank’s foyer as an art gallery.

“Hanging art in banks doesn’t often mean success is achieved overnight.” Story said he doesn’t always know where the inspiration for a purchase comes from. “Banks are, however, great venues for showing off artists’ work because tremendous exposure can be gained while attempting to generate new sales. And there is valuable credibility added if a bank acquires any of your pieces.”

Banks’ contemporary support of art is founded on long-standing traditions. The impetus was stepped up notably during the state’s bicentennial. Virginia “Ginny” Grose was South Carolina National (SCN)’s public relations director when the bank expanded an already entrenched initiative.

“When headquarters moved from Assembly to the corner of Main and Lady, we built on what we had started,” Grose recalled. “We opened our commissioning of art by South Carolina artists to include artists who had lived here even briefly – like Jasper Johns and Georgia O’Keeffe, and during the bicentennial toured the works through the 50 South Carolina cities in which we had a presence at that time.”

Over the years, SCN won two Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Awards and a coveted national Business in the Arts award, given to only 10 businesses a year. These awards recognized the bank’s support of the arts.

Later, SCN’s merger included art as an asset.

Changes in banking, especially mergers, have cultivated the growth of corporate art collections. As banks identify more and more astutely with the communities they serve, they continue to turn to artists for visual expressions of their local commitments.