I get asked occasionally what benefit our company receives by sponsoring the Legacy Trust Award Collection Art Competition (LTAC).  My answer to the question may surprise you.

The basic motivation behind LTAC centers on my general philosophy that service to community should not be limited to writing checks, but rather combining financial support with a hands-on, personal engagement.  Nine years ago, I spent a week assisting in the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  That experience had a profound impact on my life and has been the guiding force behind this philosophy.

You may ask, how can a reconstruction project one thousand miles away have any similarity to a Michigan art competition for the disabled?  The answer lies not in measurable accomplishments like how many sheets of drywall were hung or how many artists registered for a competition, but rather in the opportunity to experience firsthand the human impact of your effort.

As it turned out, my time in New Orleans was not about the physical work, but rather about listening to the homeowners who recounted the horrific details of the storm and its aftermath, before expressing a profound sense of hope and optimism in rebuilding their home and their lives.  It was deep and personal – and unexpected.

The idea of LTAC came along in 2010 as a means to provide a pathway for artists with disabilities to gain access to ArtPrize.  Like hanging drywall, the competition was initially about organizing and then executing a plan.  And then something unexpected happened- again.

Our private reception that precedes the public vote is usually attended by many of the participating artists.  This gave me an opportunity to meet the artists and to learn how important art was to their identity and their ability to express themselves.  They would also share how appreciative they were for LTAC and the opportunity to display their artistic creation in public view.

This interaction with the artists and their families has now become the most significant element of LTAC for me.  The defining moment came two years ago at our private reception when I observed a young woman artist entering the Grand Rapids Art Museum.  She stood there gazing about at the enormity of the facility.  Through her mother, I learned that it meant the world to her to know that HER artwork, for 48 hours, was going to hang in the Grand Rapids Art Museum, adding legitimacy to her identity as an artist.

So, what benefit does Legacy Trust receive from this competition?  None that can be measured in dollars and cents.  LTAC is an expression of the company’s values and culture.  My hope is that LTAC has exposed one of our employees, or volunteers, or sponsors or invited guests to an experience in humanity that inspires a deeper engagement in whatever undertaking is important to them – inviting the unexpected.