Wells Fargo Advisors recently donated $100,000 to the Arts & Education Council, half of which is being used to launch the new Art Education Fund. The Fund provides tuition scholarships and transportation subsidies to talented high school students to further their artistic training.

The gift also helps grow A&E’s “Arts Leadership and Management Academy” (ALMA), an initiative Wells Fargo Advisors has been supporting for the past three years. ALMA provides workshops and professional development opportunities to build non-profits' organizational capacity and program impact. The remainder of the gift supports A&E’s annual campaign.

Happenings recently spoke to Vanessa Cooksey, senior vice president and head of community affairs at Wells Fargo Advisors, to discuss the role of businesses and business leaders in the local arts community.

Why is it important for businesses such as Wells Fargo Advisors to support the arts in the St. Louis region?

It is important for Wells Fargo Advisors to support the arts in St. Louis because investing in communities is part of our company’s values. One of our founders, Henry Wells, believed it is not the number of years a person lives but how a person uses those years to help others that is measure of a life well lived.

St. Louis is Wells Fargo Advisors’ home office location. We make significant investments in arts and culture, in healthy aging, in financial education and in workforce development, because we know strong communities are part of what makes for successful business.

You are a financial investment company but also support the arts. What is the connection between the two?

We want to hire people who have a strong foundation in finance, business and mathematics, but we also know people who have had exposure to and participate in the arts have developed other key skills that are critical in our business. Arts training helps with character building and creative thinking. Innovation drives our business and helps our clients succeed financially, so having people with both quantitative and qualitative skills is really important.

What led Wells Fargo Advisors to support the new Art Education Fund?

We have significant investments in K-12 public education, particularly in the St. Louis Public Schools. The inspiration to invest in this program – with several school districts in the North County community – was so we could be more inclusive of the those communities, especially since the unrest in Ferguson. We wanted to do something impactful and ultimately sustainable. These are kids who need opportunity, and if they get that opportunity, they will continue to grow. It was a very thoughtful and strategic investment in a community that needed it.

What measures or incentives has Wells Fargo implemented to encourage employees to embrace the arts?

We have a wonderful offering and strategy in what we call our team member philanthropy. We offer eligible team members volunteer service leave, and we post opportunities for team members to volunteer for several arts organizations. We also give out tickets to the performing arts in the community and partner with our Team Member Engagement and HR colleagues to offer tickets as special incentives or rewards.

We also host special events at arts organizations. We recently held our Community Support Campaign thank-you event at the St. Louis Art Museum. Instead of having it in our building, we used it as an opportunity to expose team members to an organization where we make investments.

How are the arts transformative?

I love that they provide a safe space for diverse people to come and enjoy together. If I’m at the Symphony enjoying the music and someone else not from my same ethnic or racial background is there as well, we have the music in common. So the question then becomes: How can we take that and start having some of the more challenging conversations that would help St. Louis better grow and heal?

For information about Wells Fargo Advisors visit wellsfargoadvisors.com.