Beneficial State Foundation Perspectives

Our thoughts on changing the banking system for good and building the new economy

Investing in arts and culture

Symone is Beneficial State Foundation’s Digital Engagement Manager based in Oakland, CA.

From Billie Holiday to Kendrick Lamar, it has been a long-standing tradition in pop culture for musicians and other artists to “reflect the times” in their work. Singers collaborate with grassroots movements, sharing songs with activists “to motivate them through long marches, for psychological strength against harassment and brutality and sometimes to simply pass the time.”

“Rather than reiterate a stereotype, art can show human beings in multidimensional ways. It can show the way in which we wish to build the world,” says Oakland-based activist artist and cultural organizer Favianna Rodriguez.

In 2007, our Chief Impact Officer and Deputy Director Erin Kilmer-Neel, along with Oakland’s current Vice Mayor Annie Campbell Washington, hosted the first Oakland Indie Awards festival, a celebration of Oakland’s independent businesses and artists who give back to the community. What started as a launch party for Oakland Unwrapped (an online marketplace of small businesses and artists), eventually turned into our annual festival when Erin joined Beneficial State Foundation as a Program Officer and introduced our organization to the Oakland Indie Awards celebration.

“Rather than reiterate a stereotype, art can show human beings in multidimensional ways. It can show the way in which we wish to build the world.”

Although we’re pressing pause on the event this year, we maintain our tradition of investing in community-based arts and culture through Beneficial State Bank’s mission-driven lending. Critical loan capital helped The Crucible, an industrial arts school in Oakland with classes in blacksmithing, welding, ceramics, and more, become a building owner, freeing up equity to reinvest into its programs and operations.

And there’s Historic Seattle which used bank financing to complete the restoration of Washington Hall and refinance the Cadillac Hotel, home to the Klondike Gold Rush Museum. We’re also proud to help fund their public education programs, which take more than 1,000 people on tours of historic places in Seattle in each year. Lastly, we love to open our space for events like Oakland-based Pro Arts Gallery’s recent Imagining Post-Capitalism Festival.

Beneficial State Bank currently has more than $5 million in loans committed to arts and culture organizations such as those above and ones with a youth focus, like the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and Chapter 510 and the Department of Make Believe. I spoke about the importance of youth arts programs in particular with a colleague who is pursuing his passion for music. Portland-based Beneficial Banker Jordan Johnson recently released his debut album, Big Dreams. Jordan has opened for artists like Wyclef Jean, Juvenile, Nipsey Hussle, Ray J, and Jeremih; he finds motivation in knowing that others can relate to his experiences with adversity, a topic he often touches on in his lyrics.

Describe your musical journey and the creative process of making your album. What brought you to this point?

I have always had a dream of making it in the music industry. The last 6 years I felt as if I was giving up on my dream. I would find myself writing lyrics in my mind while half asleep. I finally realized that this was truly who I was, and that whether I make it in this industry or not, I find happiness in writing music.

Did music/arts programs influence your interest in creating music?
I remember participating in choir in middle school and not getting an equal opportunity in developing my voice. In choir class, I felt I was overlooked by the teachers. This always stuck with me.

What are your thoughts on the importance of music/arts programs for young people looking for creative outlets?
The education piece is so vital to song writing and development. Music is one of the biggest ways to get your voice heard. Teachers should treat the students equally and not use favoritism, you never know who has potential. I believe it is also important to use your voice and platform to make a difference in your community, and give back when you can. Music brings people together and can spread positivity amongst peers.

You can listen to Jordan’s first single title album, Big Dreams, on, Spotify, and Apple Music.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.