Above: Yong Ho Ji's "Sharks" at SEI Oaks
A conversation with Ria Walsh, People’s Light Board Member; President and CEO, SEI Private Trust Company
For People’s Light board member Ria Walsh, art has always been a focus. So much so, when selecting her secondary education path, she struggled between fine arts and computer sciences. Though she jokes about choosing the more financially secure major, Walsh held onto her passions, drawing and painting. while expanding her appreciation to other art genres, including theatre. Since joining the board in April 2016, Walsh has become a vocal ambassador for People’s Light. She serves as the committee chair of the Theatre’s Corporate Circle, an initiative that aims to build strong ties between the Theatre and surrounding business community through insider production access, The Farmhouse and offstage events. Earlier this year, Corporate Circle launched a complimentary speaker series, which was conceived by Walsh and connects what’s happening on our stages to contemporary issues faced by business leaders and their companies. Al Chiaradonna, Senior Vice President of Private Banking at SEI, kicked off the series by taking a look at the prevalence of equity, diversity and inclusion throughout The Diary of Anne Frank.
Walsh is immersed in art each day, and that’s a good thing. SEI, which was founded by Chairman and CEO Alfred P. West, houses many wonderful pieces from the West Collection. The West Collection features artwork from global emerging artists, enhancing people’s ability to think differently by forcing alternative perspectives.
“Experiencing art requires you to widen your lens and look at other angles you might not see at first – or that you might not want to see,” says Walsh, who adds that innovation is the common denominator between arts and business, a belief shared by West and one of the reasons he brought the West Collection to Oaks. Employees are encouraged to speak up in favor for or against pieces. If employees or departments feel strongly negative, they can share their rationale and request that piece be moved to the “Hot Hall,” which is an exhibit of those rejected pieces offering controversial perspectives.
“In business and in the arts, everything starts as an idea. The questions that follow are always about how to bring those ideas to life. If you’re only seeing one perspective, you might miss important details that could contribute to the success or failure of that fresh idea.”
Failure is also about getting out of your comfort zone. Walsh continues, “Theatre is an art form that can be stagnant, but what inspires me about People’s Light and being on its board is that innovation starts at the top. Abbey (Abbey Adams, CEO and Artistic Director) brings different thinking to People’s Light in her leadership and strategy – on, behind and beyond the stage. There’s no fear of risk-taking, something that is invaluable for companies to evolve and stay relevant.”
One of the many ways SEI fuels its mission to support the Arts is inviting various organizations and their performers or artworks to the company’s Oaks campus. SEI employees are encouraged to support their favorite arts organizations through board participation, the company’s matching gift program, or sponsorship of artists and events.
But leadership strives for more than board titles and complimentary tickets; leaders begin a conversation, engage with the art and artists, and “respond to the art.” “We want our employees to interact with art and understand that it is a part of our culture, both internally and externally. We want them to discover how learning and sharing art of any form can foster critical thinking, fresh perspective, creativity and lively discussion. An appreciation for cultural and creative diversity encourages a healthy workplace.”