Bank of America's Arts Philanthropy – Loaning Art

As far as corporate reputations go, Bank of America's isn't exactly stellar. The loathing of this company reaches far and deep into the psyche of those who faced foreclosure or are currently facing foreclosure in the United States with loans owned by Bank of America. That being said, the company does do some good deeds through its Bank of America Charitable Foundation (See Wall Street Donors: Bank of America Charitable Foundation), including contributions to the arts sector. The questions are: How good is good and to what end?

The Bank of America Charitable Foundation reportedly awarded $32 million in art and culture grants. While this was a mere 16% of the foundation's total philanthropic giving, $32 million is still a lot of money. The Bank of America Charitable Foundation ranked in the top 20 in the U.S. for arts and culture grant giving in 2010. Bank of America's dichotomy lies in its methods of giving to the arts. (Read Market Philanthropic Director Miki Akimoto's IP profile). 

First, is it really "giving" if the company is simply lending out its priceless, corporate owned art collection? Bank of America has revealed neither the size nor the value of its collection, but it is reported to be one of the largest and most valuable in the world. With works from a wide array of artists such as Warhol, Dali, Picasso, Avedon, and Arbus, just to name a few, it's got to be. 

The economic recession has hit every sector in the United States and, to many people, going to shows and museums is considered a luxury expense. The result is that ticket sales are down, donations are down, and some museums are barely hanging on. What Bank of America is doing is lending out its priceless collections to museums around the world through its Arts in Our Communities program and Arts on Us Project.

The Arts on Us program allows Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders to visit these exhibits free of charge. It's important to note that this offer is only valid during the first weekend of the month.

The philosophy behind loaning its art collection is that it grants greater exposure to the arts for those who couldn't otherwise afford the ticket costs and for museums that can't afford to foot the costs for procuring the art to put on display. Since the free admission is only available to Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders one weekend out of each month, the other 28 or so days of the month museums generating much needed revenue through ticket sales.

Bank of America loaning its art for free helps museums save money on costs and make money through ticket sales, no doubt. There is just something about a multi-billion dollar company allowing museums to borrow its corporate-owned art collection and calling it philanthropy seems a little less than altruistic.