When Finance Meets Art


James Soutar
(Photo provided by Pure Art Foundation)

HONG KONG – James Soutar buys art works as he goes through life.  He bought a piece when he got married; he bought the other when his son was born; and he bought another when he started his own business.

“Each piece is a scrap of my life,” he said.

As an owner of a financial company, Soutar buys and sells stocks for living but never buys art works for investment.  In May 2007, he established Pure Art Foundation, a non-for-profit grant-giving organization, with his wife Abby Lai, a DJ and photographer.  Lai had met some young artists struggling with funding, so she came out with this idea to donate privately.

According to InFinance, the connection between finance and arts started centuries ago.  In Renaissance Florence, the works of Michelangelo, Donatello and Fra Angelico were financed by Medici banking house.  Now the relationship lasts worldwide, including in Hong Kong.

PAF provides excellent young artists with work space and fund through an annual grant application program.  “Even Matisse and Picasso,” Soutar said, “when they started, they were considered crazy of what they were doing.”  He thinks new and great arts are from young artists and Hong Kong needs a thriving artistic community as its soul.

Sovereign Art Foundation is another art foundation sponsored by a financial company in Hong Kong.  Embedded in the sovereign group, the financial company, SAF has only three full-time staff and sometimes one or two interns.

Tiffany Pinkstone
(Photo by Vicky Feng)

In 2003, Howard Bilton, the chairman of the sovereign group and an art collector, established SAF when the art scene was still small in Hong Kong.  “He thought it was a good time to set an example for businesses to get involved in art in Hong Kong,” explained Tiffany Pinkstone, the director of SAF.   Pinkstone also said the association between bank and art was from Europe and it was still a new concept in Asia at the time PAF started.

SAF runs an annual Asian art prize to recognize the mid-career artists and raises money for charity.  The award has increased from $10,000 in 2004 to $30,000 this year because the price of Asian art soared over the past ten years.

“The relationship between money and art is quite natural,” Pinkstone said.

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