Corporations may have many reasons for starting and expanding a collection of original art. It may begin with the passion of a top-level executive. It may stem from a desire to support local artists. It may even involve a desire to impress clients or create promotional opportunities for the company. Whatever the reason, artists should keep their eyes open for corporate collectors and the process for becoming part of the collection. Here are three examples of Utah Corporations known for their art collections. Each has a different approach to buying new art.
Parsons Behle Latimer
I first became aware of Parsons Behle Latimer’s eclectic art collection though a visit to their downtown Salt Lake City offices on behalf of a client. I would have welcomed a tour of all five floors of PBL office space, but I had to satisfy myself with the pieces in our meeting room and those I glimpsed as I found my way to the restroom.
Ray Etcheverry, Chairman and President of PBL’s Board, explains that PBL’s collection began in the early ’70s as the law firm upgraded office space and wanted to decorate with some unique pieces of art. Over the years, the collection has expanded as the firm has expanded its space. PBL is one of the largest law firms in the Intermountain West, with offices in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Reno.
Collecting for PBL is typically space- and need-driven, with no particular style or theme in mind, though they usually try to select pieces by Utah artists. There is no set process for making purchasing decisions, but it usually begins with an identified need, followed by a recommendation by a top-level executive, or a visit to one of the Salt Lake galleries with whom the firm has done business in the past. If some executives have played a bigger role in the expanding collection, it may have been timing – the need to fill newly renovated or expanded space – or the executive’s own personal interest in art.
The PBL collection adds a distinctly original touch to the luxuriously appointed offices. How refreshing to see an original contemporary mixed media piece instead of the ubiquitous print of Washington crossing the Delaware. To some discerning clients (and aren’t those the kind you want?) the art collection says, “These folks have taste. They don’t have a cookie-cutter approach to doing business. They will take special care of my business.” But does it also make PBL a great place to work? Etcheverry believes the art “is one of the things that makes the place attractive. Many employees recognize that we do have a very nice atmosphere” in which to work.
Though PBL has never sought proposals from artists, preferring to work through galleries, they would be happy to look at an artist’s portfolio if one came through the mail.
The Zions Bank art collection of some 3,000 pieces was started in the early ’60s by longtime bank chairman Roy Simmons and his wife Tibby. They loved art and wanted to help struggling Utah artists. Roy’s son Harris Simmons, currently Zions chairman, continues the tradition.
Like Parsons Behle Latimer, Zions expands its collection when they have a need to redecorate or fill a new space. There is no specific art budget, but the bank will typically make purchases every year. The collection is displayed throughout Zions Bank branches and offices in Utah and Idaho. Though they have no particular style or theme for collecting, most pieces tend to be Utah or western landscapes, along with some portraits.
Purchase decisions usually fall to the bank’s corporate officers, with input from branch officers or building architects. According to Tom Alder, Vice President of Zions Private Mortgage Banking, the annual Zions Art Show is often a source for purchases or an occasion for bank executives to become familiar with the work of current artists.
Alder explains that what started as a way for Zions Women’s Financial Center to help a few of its artist-clients display their work is now an annual early November event with more than 50 participating artists – all clients of Zions Bank. Artists range from experienced and well known to emerging. More than 5,000 invitations are sent out for the one-night extravaganza and some 1,000 people attend. The artists keep all the proceeds from sales.
The annual art show is an opportunity to not only support its artist-clients, but also to invite other VIP clients to a prestigious and fun event. But the everyday original art on the walls at Zions offices and branches also provides benefits. Says Alder, “Employees who appreciate art really like having the original art around; same deal with clients. We’ve had clients call and ask to buy pieces they’ve seen in a branch; we refer them to the artist.”
The Deseret News’ offices are another place where one could easily get lost in the art collection and forget the main reason for the visit. You want to ask, “Please, may I just wander down the next corridor to see what’s there?”
The Deseret News corporate collection has accumulated over years of sponsoring an annual art show as well as through other art purchases or donations. The artists included read like a “Who’s Who” of the best Utah artists, starting with LeConte Stewart, whose painting, Snow Banks, launched the collection.
According to a 1999 pamphlet, “Heritage in Art: The Deseret News Corporate Collection,” “the annual Deseret News Art Show began with the idea that the newspaper could play a role in stimulating the development of good artists. It was intended to appeal to emerging artists, giving them recognition and help at the start of their careers. For many, it was the first public attention they received. The Deseret News also hoped to stimulate more Utahns to buy and hang in their homes original artwork by Utah artists.”
The first series of annual art shows was held each fall from 1973 through 1989. In addition to giving merit awards, the company purchased a painting from each show. According to Dave Gogan, Visual Arts Editor for the newspaper, the annual show was reborn in 1999 under the leadership of then managing editor John Hughes, who said, “For many years our newspaper fostered the growth of the visual arts with an annual competition. We believe the time has come to renew that commitment.”
Now held in conjunction with the Days of ’47 celebration, the show has a landscape theme. Beginning last year, and continuing this year, the show is hosted by the Museum of Utah Art and History on Main Street. Gogan says, “Moving to the MUAH also allowed us to remove all size restrictions. We hope to stay at the MUAH for a long time.”
“Since 1999, I’ve selected the Purchase Award winner to add to the paper’s collection,” says Gogan. “I’m trying to diversify our holdings by picking up works on paper along with paintings.”
On Wednesday July 18th at 12:30 contributors to Artists of Utah and 15 Bytes are invited to a special reception to view the Zions Bank art collection with a guided tour by Tom Alder. Light refreshments will be served. After the Zions’ tour, all are invited to go downstairs and around the corner to the MUAH to view the current Deseret News Color of the Land exhibition. Go to page 2 for more details.
Sue Martin holds an M.A. in Theatre and has worked in public relations. As an artist, she works in watercolor, oil, and acrylic to capture Utah landscapes or the beauty of everyday objects in still life.