Banking on the arts

When other corporations bailed on the arts in the Great Recession, Bank of America doubled down. The American multinational banking and financial services giant, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, has long supported exhibits and performances, lent works from its collections to create museum shows and provided cardholders with free admission to top cultural attractions. (It has also sponsored events held by Westfair Communications Inc., parent company of WAG.)

“We always felt that… the arts tie communities together,” says Jeff Barker, New York state president of Bank of America.

Barker, an Armonk resident, walks the talk. Not only does he attend exhibits and performances in his professional capacity, but he enjoys cultural outings with his grandchildren — like the New York Botanical Garden’s perennial “Train Show,” featuring city landmarks made entirely of plant materials — and sits on the board of the Roundabout Theatre Co. in Manhattan.

So it’s no surprise to find that Bank of America is lead sponsor of the “Chihuly” exhibit at the Garden, and you can bet Barker will be there, perhaps at one of the enchanting 39 “Chihuly Nights,” featuring food, cocktails, shopping and performances all illumined by Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures. Indeed for “Chihuly,” Bank of America has gone all in, even partnering with the Garden in a Twitter contest that will give the winner an exclusive weekend in New York City for the “Chihuly” opening (April 22-23). It includes a stay at the Grand Hyatt New York in Manhattan, hotel sponsor of the show; round-trip tickets to the Garden on Metro-North; a VIP tour of the exhibit; lunch at the Hudson Garden Grill; a signed personalized book from Dale Chihuly; and a Bank of America gift bag.

Some “Chihuly” weekends will also be part of Museums on US, a 20-year-old program that offers Bank of America and Merrill Lynch credit and debit cardholders the chance to visit more than 150 cultural organizations in the United States free of charge on the first full weekend of every month.

The Garden’s “Chihuly” show is just one of the blockbusters and major institutions that Bank of America supports. It is a founding member of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.; and the international tour sponsor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The bank serves as the primary sponsor for more than 10 museum exhibits per year. It is the global sponsor of the “Robert Rauschenberg” show, which will be at the Museum of Modern Art May 21 through Sept. 4; and a supporter of “Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim” (through Sept. 5).  

But for Barker, all art is local. Westchester and Fairfield residents aren’t going to forego a visit to the Whitney Museum of American Art — of which Bank of America is a major sponsor — just because it is in Manhattan. Still, some of the museum’s support finds its way right into our backyard. The bank helped fund the Bruce Museum’s 2016 show of William Abranowicz photographs of the Mianus River Gorge, which runs right by Barker’s home.

Sponsorship and cardholder benefits are but two prongs in Bank of America’s multifaceted arts approach. The bank’s Art Conservation Project provides grants to nonprofit museums to conserve significant works of art, including those that have been designated national treasures. Since 2010, Bank of America has provided grants to museums in 29 countries for more than 100 conservation projects. Among the works conserved in 2016 were Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” (1770), Andy Warhol’s “Jackie Frieze” (1964), three paintings by Salvador Dalí at The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida; a sixth century haniwa (terra-cotta tomb figure) at the Tokyo National Museum; and approximately 100 textiles and related objects at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum.

Meanwhile, the Bank of America Collection is a resource from which museums and nonprofit galleries may borrow complete exhibits at no cost. 

“All you have to do is put a nail in the wall and advertise,” Barker says.

Since the program’s launch in late 2008, the bank’s collection has made more than 120 exhibits possible. Current and upcoming shows include “Miradas:  Ancient Roots in Modern and Contemporary Mexican Art,” at the Nevada Museum of Art through July 16;  “Ansel Adams Distance and Details,” at the Upcountry History Museum, Furman University through June 4; “Andy Warhol Portfolios Stardust” at the Wits Art Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa (July 25-Oct. 25); “Wyeth Family:  Three Generations From the Bank of America Collection,” at The Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, March 11-Aug. 13 and at Portland Art Museum Sept. 30 through Jan. 21, 2018.

With so many approaches, it’s a win, win, win, win for the arts. Barker, who counts talking about culture among the pleasures of his job — and a nice break from other kinds of figures — laughs.

“We think so. It’s a good way for us to give back to the community.”

To learn more about these programs, visit

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