Banks Showcase Artwork, Local Artists

By Andy Meek

Since December, Paragon National Bank has been showcasing art pieces from Dogwood Elementary School students at its Saddle Creek bank branch at 7600 Poplar Ave.

It’s the fourth student art exhibit hosted over the past year by Paragon, which also has featured monthly art installations from students at Houston Middle School, St. Louis Catholic School and Bodine School.

For the Dogwood Elementary exhibit, Paragon partnered with Dogwood art teachers Dotty Coulson, Aimee Jones and Norma Powell to choose art created by 27 students. The works were created using everything from chalk and oil pastels to watercolor and tempera paint.

It’s not a new concept for Paragon. Throughout Memphis, walking into a bank branch or financial services office quite often reveals the equivalent of a small art collection, sometimes to showcase local artists, and Paragon branches are no different.

In fact, when Paragon was holding its grand opening in 2005, it used the tagline “The Art of Banking.”

“It’s something that enhances the customer experience, and all of the art in our lobbies is local,” said Paragon CEO Robert Shaw.

At Magna Bank’s Oak Court branch, subdued abstract paintings hang on a couple of lobby walls, and the bank frequently displays local paintings and prints on easels and other prominent setups in the lobby.

Magna chairman, president and CEO Kirk Bailey – like several other bank heads – said the selection and installation of art is important to them. Also, they put a premium on local artists.

It’s an attempt to achieve a counterintuitive trait of bank branches – to make them feel like, well, something other than a bank. Something that’s not stuffy, where a premium is placed on customer service and on the customer experience.

“Art often reflects the story of the community,” Bailey said. “We like to give both established and up and coming artists a spot to display their work while often introducing bank customers to a new perspective on their neighborhoods. Also, the extra color from the artwork makes the branch, a place people visit on a regular basis, more interesting.”

Scott Stafford, president and CEO of Evolve Bank & Trust, had a similar take.

“As a community bank, we feel that it is vitally important to be a part of the communities we serve,” he said. “Promoting artwork from local artists in our branches only deepens that connection as well as promotes the vibrant art of the Mid-South to our customers.”

When Iberiabank moved its local headquarters from Germantown into Memphis at 4894 Poplar Ave., art became a big focus. The bank bought three dozen pieces to put in the new building and installed special lighting to give it all the right feel.

Reached at one point while the move-in was still under way, Iberibank’s area market president Greg Smithers said he’d just spent a full day with the building’s architect and interior designer looking at artwork.

“In Memphis, we have a lot of tremendous artistic talent out there,” Smithers said. “We tend to seek out a lot of times lesser known artists whose work we really like. It all gives clients and employees a sense of place.”

One of the thoughts it also engenders from customers, which is fine with Iberiabank, is: This doesn’t even look like a bank.