Updated March 25 at 6:25am

Fidelity's growing collection honors R.I. area artists

Karen Gavin, Staff Writer
Art for whose sake?

Ask Fidelity Investments and they'll tell you art is for business's sake, as the corporate giant continues to expand its growing fine art collection, recently purchasing 50 contemporary pieces by local and regional artists for its newest building in Smithfield, set to open this week.

With these recent acquisitions, Fidelity's local corporate collection now totals more than 200 works in a range of media, from paintings, drawings and photographs to limited edition prints, sculpture, ceramic and textiles.

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Fidelity's growing collection honors R.I. area artists

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Art for whose sake?

Ask Fidelity Investments and they'll tell you art is for business's sake, as the corporate giant continues to expand its growing fine art collection, recently purchasing 50 contemporary pieces by local and regional artists for its newest building in Smithfield, set to open this week.

With these recent acquisitions, Fidelity's local corporate collection now totals more than 200 works in a range of media, from paintings, drawings and photographs to limited edition prints, sculpture, ceramic and textiles. (Fidelity also maintains another 13 works of art at the Fidelity Investment Center in Providence, with seven of these pieces by local artists.)

The woman behind the collection's beauty and breadth is associate curator Robin M. Weiss, who has been with Fidelity since 1996 after working many years in the private museum sector, including Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

Besides handling Rhode Island's collection for the privately held Fidelity, Weiss also manages the company's projects in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Kentucky, Utah, California and Canada.

The collection's purpose, ultimately, is to enhance Fidelity's work environment and so improve the quality of workplace life, Weiss said.
And while Fidelity is certainly not the only company to have an extensive art collection - Pfizer, Paine Webber and Microsoft spring quickly to mind - Weiss said they are unique in the extent to which they commit themselves to growing the collection, and how accessible they make all of their art to all their employees.

"I think we have the largest corporate collection in Rhode Island," she said, with no effort by the top brass to keep the best or most valuable pieces sequestered in high level corporate offices or boardrooms. "It really is everywhere you turn," Weiss said, adding that Fidelity is also one of the few companies that retains its own in-house staff to purchase and manage its collection.

Works by 35 artists will be presented in Fidelity's new building, among them several newly graduated artists from the Rhode Island School of Design as well as veterans like artist Nancy Friese of Cranston.
Friese is no newcomer to the corporate art world - besides Fidelity she has artwork represented at several collections, including Wellington, Johnson & Johnson and Scripps Howard News Service.

"The different thing about Fidelity is they're so focused on regional [artists]," Friese said, even though as an international company they don't "need" to do that.

Friese also credits associate curator Robin Weiss's "personable" delving into the artistic community here, and said Fidelity's local interest helps fill a gap between the high proportion of artists in Rhode Island and the number of local galleries available to show their work.

A lot of companies "want you to loan it," Friese said, laughing. "There's a big difference there."

In selecting Fidelity's art, Weiss won't buy "overtly sexual, political or religious artwork," nor art that features the human figure, based on an aesthetic decision by the company. "We just find it safer."

Weiss also prefers art that's unique and interesting "rather than pretty and forgettable," and looks for work by local emerging and mid-career talent that has good color and stability, in a range of subject and style. In Rhode Island she works with gallery owners such as Virginia Lynch and Catherine Bert, who have been "very generous and open," demonstrating an artistic non-competitiveness in Rhode Island "which I haven't experienced in any other place in the country."

Weiss said she is not motivated by the potential investment value of a piece and won't discuss money, either the total value of the Fidelity collection or the prices paid to individual artists for their work. (The collection, which now totals more than 8,000 works of art at 80 sites worldwide, is part of the company's assets.)

But Weiss did say she looks "very carefully at the price" of a piece to determine its quality, worth and value, and that she selects art "we feel that the employees will appreciate."

"It really is a collection for the employees," said John Muggeridge, vice president of communications for Fidelity's Smithfield campus, adding that in the 20 years since CEO Edward C. Johnson 3d. started collecting fine art at Fidelity, it has become an integral component of corporate life, rather than a sideline endeavor designed to drum up publicity or good public relations. "It's actually part of who we are."

Besides its permanent collection, Fidelity also hosts a rotating gallery in its cafeteria, typically changing exhibitions every three months, which gives employees enough time to experience the artwork, learn from it and "grow with it," Muggeridge said.

Usually these shows feature artwork by fine art faculty at local colleges and universities. So far Rhode Island College, Salve Regina University, the University of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island School of Design and Providence College have participated, and more than 100 works of art have rotated through Fidelity's cafeteria in the last two years. Some of that artwork eventually has been purchased by Fidelity Investments or by Fidelity employees after the exhibition, Weiss said.

They also host opening receptions where employees can meet the artists, which typically attracts a good turnout. "It's just another way of building appreciation," Muggeridge said. "Artists are quite different from people we run into in the business world."

Fidelity has also co-sponsored juried shows at the Providence Art Club and hosted work by local schoolchildren. This year Fidelity is sponsoring art shows at URI's Fine Art Center Galleries in Kingston - a superb promotional investment, Muggeridge said, since more than 20,000 Rhode Islanders visit URI's galleries each year to view works by regional, national and international artists.

It's the first major corporate sponsorship of an entire art exhibition season at URI, and will not only expose students to nicer work but give Fidelity greater exposure on campus, Muggeridge said, adding that the company employs many URI graduates. "It just feels natural."

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