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
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
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
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."