EQ Bank Strives to be 100% Digital, from Banking to Art

Digital art by its primary function disseminates innovation in the art world: from the internet to your smartphone screen.

Being able to access art on our mobile phones or on our personal computers not only changes perceptions about the ways in which art can be viewed, but also, the standards and best practices of collectible art as we know it.

Fanny Huard, AEIUO, 2017, Animation (still), playing on-screen in reception at Equitable’s head office, Toronto
Fanny Huard, AEIUO, 2017, Animation (still), playing on-screen in reception at Equitable’s head office, Toronto

This could be part of the reason why digital art is still an emerging collectible item, in that we do not often see digital art in mainstream art collections. There are also many questions surrounding the sustainability of digital art in the changing global art market.

For example, who is willing to invest in the careers of digital artists? And better still, do organizations see the benefits of collecting digital art?

Equitable Bank, and its digital banking operation EQ Bank, both headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, is one organization taking positive steps forward in answering these questions.

Since 2015, Equitable Bank has been fosteringfuture friendly working environment that aligns with its digital-only banking service. This became the impetus for building a digital art collection that would be brought into the mainstream workplace at Equitable Bank.

In addition, the curator of the company’s digital art collection, and co-founder of the Emerging Digital Artist Award (EDAA), Lindsay LeBlanc, is working to change the value systems set in the corporate art world.

Therefore, something should be said about Equitable Bank’s digital art collection breaking these boundaries and how it is changing the way companies can invest in digital art.

I had the privilege to visit Equitable Bank’s head office, and as I sat down with LeBlanc, I was captivated by a large screen situated at reception that featured a digital artwork that may have changed form and colour more than 100 times during our conversation.

Fanny Huard, AEIUO, 2017
Fanny Huard, AEIUO, 2017, Animation (still), winner of the 2017 Emerging Digital Artists Award.

For the past three years LeBlanc has been working with digital artists through the EDAA program/competition, which is sponsored by EQ Bank. The unapologetic slogan “we’re for web masters and re-mastering, not masterpieces” sets a revolutionary tone for the competition.

For LeBlanc, the opportunity to start collecting art from this competition was significant. She states that “…rather than collecting [digital] work right away we started a step beyond that saying ‘we want to run this program for early career digital artists’. Now we have been collecting from that pool of artists since 2015, and as of 2017 began collecting digital works from artists beyond that pool.”

The selection criteria for the competition are also breaking boundaries, judges are brought in from all different corners of the art world and the digital world.

LeBlanc herself has an art background, and thinks it is important to include voices outside of the corporate body to determine what a strong digital work of art is.

Together the EDAA are learning from the artists working in the digital space about the best practices to store digital art, document digital art, and are thinking more critically about where these digital works are going to be used.

“…in terms of best practices [for digital], I think it’s about crowdsourcing knowledge [because] none of us are experts on this at this point. There is no digital collection that we’re all looking to saying ‘okay, they’ve got it all figured out.'”

From left: Fanny Huard, AEIUO, 2017, Animation, 5:24 and Pipo Pierre Louis, Puntito_visual,2016,Animation with sound,6:32. Installation documentation from EQ Bank’s Emerging Digital Artists Award Finalists Exhibition at Trinity Square Video, Toronto, October 2017.
From left: Fanny Huard, AEIUO, 2017, Animation, 5:24 and Pipo Pierre Louis, Puntito_visual, 2016, Animation with sound, 6:32. Installation documentation from EQ Bank’s Emerging Digital Artists Award Finalists Exhibition at Trinity Square Video, Toronto, October 2017.

And just as painters receive additional compensation from their patrons, all finalists of the EDAA are paid $500 CAD on top of the awarded prize money.

The winner of the EDAA is awarded $5,000 CAD, while selected finalists get $1,000 CAD each. In addition, all finalists (including the winner) receive a free membership to the Toronto based artist-run-centre Trinity Square Video, and the award winner receives a guaranteed spot in the annual Themed Commission program.

This model challenges the notion that digital art cannot be sustainable or worth investing in.

“…until we accept that digital art needs its own system we’re not going to be able to parse those differences between what it means to hold a website in your collection, hold a video in your collection, hold a GIF in your collection…those nuances need to be teased out when we’re talking about evaluating it, and there are so many levels to this…”

Perhaps in the not too distant future, common questions apart from the one in this headline will be: ‘what types of digital art should I have in my art collection?’