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The Art of the Matter : What Will the Fallout Be From the BankAmerica-Security Pacific Merger?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The anticipated merger of BankAmerica Corp and Security Pacific Corp. could produce the country’s largest corporate art collection as well as combine two of California’s top patrons of the visual and performing arts.

But, given a rough economy and millions of dollars of cutbacks anticipated at the merged corporation, arts communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere worry that overall giving is likely to decline after the merger.

“One and one never add up to two,” says Judith Jedlicka, president of the New York-based Business Committee for the Arts.

Still, the proposed marriage of BankAmerica and Security Pacific promises to create a California arts powerhouse: 18,500 artworks in their combined collections; hundreds of thousands of dollars given annually to premier organizations such as Los Angeles’ Music Center and the San Francisco Opera, and critical support of smaller arts groups such as tiny public TV stations and community orchestras.

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Consider the art collections: There are 12,000 artworks in the Security Pacific collection and 6,500 artworks at BankAmerica. Both banks have public gallery spaces, loan artworks to museums and provide chunks of their collections for traveling exhibitions at museums and elsewhere. Selections from Security Pacific’s collection have been shown at the Laguna Museum of Art, for instance, while opening early next month at USC’s Fisher Gallery is a collection of drawings from the Bank of America collection.

Although past behavior at both companies indicates neither collection would be substantially altered, nobody knows what will happen to those art works at this point. Nor is there any indication of what will occur with Security Pacific’s extensive art exhibition program at its Los Angeles headquarters on Hope Street and at its relatively new gallery spaces in Costa Mesa, San Francisco and Seattle.

“I suspect that although Wall Street is euphoric, the cultural community may be looking at this with a more furrowed brow,” says Sherri Geldin, associate director of the Museum of Contemporary Art. “Despite published reports that the combined organization will maintain headquarters in both cities, ultimately there’s only one corporate command center, one heart, and that remains in San Francisco. So you can’t help but surmise that cultural institutions in Los Angeles could be placed at a slight disadvantage.”

At MOCA, for instance, Security Pacific provided $250,000 toward its founding endowment and BankAmerica Foundation $150,000, Geldin says. Security Pacific’s 1989 report lists a $25,000 gift to MOCA, which is reportedly its annual level of giving to that institution, while BankAmerica is understood to give about $10,000 annually.

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As with branches, personnel and other programs, the two banks do have overlapping arts activities. And given the vast number of holdings in both art collections, there is bound to be some redundancy.

Things could be far worse, of course. Both are Business Committee for the Arts members, have won awards for their arts programs, give annually to an assortment of performing and visual arts organizations, and, says Jedlicka, “have a superb track record of supporting the arts.”

Adds Joanne Kozberg, vice chairman of the California Arts Council: “They’re both responsible companies, who have stepped up to bat for a number of causes in the arts and the social services.”

More than half of the 21-year-old Security Pacific collection is by California artists. Its assorted sculpture, paintings, works on paper, photographs and textiles are all contemporary--except for a few textiles dating back to the 19th Century--and include paintings by Sam Francis and Frank Stella, prints by Jasper Johns and Ed Ruscha, sculpture by Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi.

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Security Pacific has long been acknowledged as a key patron of Southern California artists and dealers. The collection’s value was estimated at $5 million in May, 1982, when there were only half as many artworks in it as today, but no current figures are available.

Tressa Miller, the bank’s first vice president and director of cultural affairs, referred all questions about the collections and arts activity to the Security Pacific press office, which provided no information other than a fact sheet about the collection.

Security Pacific has “an excellent collection,” says Bonnie Earls-Solari, director of the art program of BankAmerica Corp. “I think they’ve had an outstanding program over a sustained period of time. The exhibitions and collecting have always been done very professionally, in my opinion.”

The Bank of America art collection essentially began in 1979 with Earls-Solari’s hiring. She says the company’s art holdings include about 6,500 photos, prints, paintings and sculptures with a worth of about $6.4 million.

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Like Security Pacific, BankAmerica’s is essentially a contemporary art collection, and primarily American art after 1965. Among its holdings: Robert Mapplethorpe photographs, Joel Shapiro drawings, Susan Rothenberg prints, Bryan Hunt sculpture and Pat Steir paintings.

At both companies, the art is distributed among assorted corporate facilities here and elsewhere.

For both organizations, and indeed most corporations, art buying has slowed in recent years. BankAmerica acquisitions were suspended in 1986 and have not been reinstated, Earls-Solari says, although art funds have been included with budgets for new construction or renovation after 1988.

One difference, however, has been the public display of artworks. Bank of America, for instance, has gallery space only in its San Francisco world headquarters building. Three galleries on public floors include one of changing exhibitions from the collection, one showing small sculpture or works on paper and the large lobby area showing large-scale paintings; the latter two show primarily work by Bay Area artists. About 60 artworks may be up at any given time, and exhibitions total about 20 a year.

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After mounting exhibitions in its downtown headquarters building since 1976, Security Pacific expanded its exhibiting program substantially with the additions of a 9,000 square foot gallery in Costa Mesa in 1989, followed by a 6,500 square foot gallery in Seattle in 1990, and a 3,500 square foot gallery in San Francisco later that year.

The Security Pacific Foundation’s last published report, in 1989, listed gifts to cultural institutions approaching $1.8 million a year and included a wide range of recipients. No year-end report for Bank of America was immediately available, but a recent bank newsletter reported foundation gifts in the second quarter totaling about $368,000 to culture and the arts.

(Security Pacific’s chairman, Robert H. Smith, chaired the Music Center Unified Fund in 1987 and 1988, and Los Angeles-based James Miscoll, vice-chairman of Bank of America, has been named to head the 1992 campaign; Miscoll is also a member of the Music Center Opera board.)

“Generally, there’s no immediate change in the giving pattern of the arts,” says Jedlicka at the Business Committee for the Arts. “It doesn’t happen in the first year or two. But it does happen over time. If, for example, each company gave a million dollars to the arts annually, over a period of time that $2 million total becomes either $1 or $1.5 million when the new entity is operating.

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“There are some very good professionals that manage (both) programs, and they will probably put their heads together and come up with a fine well thought through program,” Jedlicka continues. “They’ve got the people there to do it.”


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