Starting in 1980, Lynne Sowder served as Director of the Visual Arts Program at First Bank System, a regional bank based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sowder’s curatorial approach developed in conversation with FBS President Dennis Evans, who was committed to pushing the bank into speculative forms of investment linked to deregulatory policies implemented by the Reagan administration. Sowder built a collection that was formally and conceptually challenging, believing that such art would encourage creativity and risk taking in the workplace. She claimed: “we were putting things on the walls that the Walker Museum…did not have the guts to buy.”
After spending five years acquiring around 3000 artworks, Sowder experienced a crisis of conscience related to the fact that her primary audience— employees and patrons of First Bank System—seemed to loathe selections from the collection that were displayed in its offices and branches. Working with Communications Specialist Nathan Braulick, she reconfigured the program, dedicating the remainder of her tenure as Director to the development of an unprecedented experiment in arts education and what is now commonly referred to as “public engagement.”
In 1988, at the onset of the Savings and Loan Crisis, FBS lost $300 million on the bond market, prompting Evans’ resignation. Sustained for a time by proceeds from the deaccessioning of works from the collection, the Visual Arts Program dissolved in 1990.
This project aims to record the testimony of those who were involved in the FBS Visual Arts Program, to collate its material record, and to tell its story in a manner that is relevant to artists and non-specialists alike.