Untold Stories: Wells Fargo on Arts & Diversity

Posted by Ms. Stacy Lasner, Mar 17, 2016 0 comments

Diversity and inclusion is more than a hiring statement header. For many of America’s most successful businesses, diversity efforts are an essential part of company culture. They help to communicate the company’s values and goals and build bridges to the communities it serves.

As one of the oldest American companies still in operation, Wells Fargo’s history is reflective of America’s history, and diversity plays a big role to this day. In the 1870s, Wells Fargo created bilingual publications to facilitate commerce between Chinese-language customers and businesses. One hundred years later, Wells Fargo employees joined with a local radio station in California to produce a Spanish language series on banking and financial literacy.

As is so often the case, at Wells Fargo diversity and the arts go hand in hand. In 2013, the year of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Wells Fargo teamed up with the Bernard and Shirley Kinsey Collection to display new and rarely seen African American art and artifacts. The company also offered customizable credit and debit cards featuring images from the collection.

That same year, Wells Fargo created Untold Stories (#MyUntold), a social media campaign for sharing personal stories by the African American community. Last month Wells Fargo commissioned African American artist Keith Rosemond II to create illustrations inspired by real stories from #MyUntold.

I recently interviewed Lisa Frison, Vice President, African American segment strategy leader at Wells Fargo, about how the company is using the arts to cultivate a deeper appreciation of the African American experience and better serve the African American community. The full interview can be found on pARTnershipMovement.org. Excerpts are below:

Q) How does Wells Fargo incorporate the arts in its diversity initiatives?

The Kinsey Collection-Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey traveling exhibition created an opportunity for individuals in five major cities to develop a deeper understanding of the role of African Americans in the making of America.

In some cities, we developed special programing and offered free admission for local students. We also offered free weekends to Wells Fargo customers, and hosted special lectures open to the community featuring the Kinsey family, historians, and community leaders.

While the #MyUntold campaign initially focused on stories shared on social media —and expressed through video, photos, and writing— we thought it would be exciting to take some of those stories and bring them to life through art in a “surprise and delight” effort where we presented the original pieces to the individual storytellers. We commissioned Atlanta-based artist Keith Rosemond II to create multiple illustrations reflecting experiences from several inspiring stories. Additionally, he designed three illustrations highlighting certain key aspects of African American culture (faith, family, and music) for Wells Fargo’s Card Design Studio® (for debit/credit card holders) 

Q) Tell us a little about the history of Wells Fargo’s card-art program.

Art is such an integral part of African American history and culture. Visual art in particular has always been a means for the community to express pride in its culture. With both the Kinsey campaign and #MyUntold, we wanted to extend the opportunity to the masses to “own a piece of art” –which we accomplished through Wells Fargo’s Card Design Studio®.

We worked closely with Rosemond to provide overall direction on the sentiment we wanted to convey, as well as our brand story. It was important that we worked with someone who understood the campaign and could connect with our vision to bring awareness to the diversity within African American culture. We did not dictate what he could create. Rosemond presented multiple concepts to us based on stories and themes that resonated with him, and as a team we selected the concepts with most cultural and emotional resonance. 

Q) Do you have any plans for the future of your arts-related diversity programming that you can share?

Wells Fargo is proud to be a founding donor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. When the museum opens in September, artifacts from our own Wells Fargo history museum collection will be featured as part of an exhibition on Grafton Tyler Brown. Brown was an American painter, lithographer and cartographer who owned and operated his lithography company in San Francisco from 1867 to 1879. He was the first African American artist to create works depicting the Pacific Northwest and California. During this time, he created lithographs for stock certificates and letterheads for numerous companies in the area–of which Wells Fargo held several in its archives.

Q) Do you have any advice for arts organizations seeking to approach businesses with partnership ideas?

Take time to learn about the company and their priorities. Lead with questions to determine mutual interests and benefits, and be willing to co-create to deliver unique experiences. It’s also important to demonstrate how you will measure impact. As much as organizations want to contribute to communities, more and more they are being required to show metrics that also demonstrate how the relationship is valuable to both the organization and the community. 

Q) What do you love about using the arts to celebrate diversity?

Wells Fargo embraces the arts as a voice for history and culture. Programs like #MyUntold and The Kinsey Collection allowed us to share important stories involving the rich history of African Americans – a history of identity and struggle for equality that is both unique and shared by other diverse segments of our society.

Art also creates an opportunity for individuals to engage in meaningful conversations about culture. Through our programs we have been able to help dispel myths and promote dialogue around the role of African-Americans in the making of America.  

Read the full interview on pARTnershipMovement.org, and stay tuned for more Q&As from The pARTnership Movement.

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