Inside Charlotte’s arts and banking circles, there’s a lot of buzz about Brandon Neal, a 30-year-old attorney for Wells Fargo. To describe it in social media terms, Neal began trending after he was appointed a board member for the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art last year.
One of his goals was to start a young professional group affiliated with the museum. He put together a diverse steering committee, and the Bechtler Young Visionaries group was formed. The young arts supporters held their first party a few months ago, and 2014 will be their first full year of events that raise money for the museum.
They’ll also volunteer through educational projects that use art to engage the community.
Neal, the son of Duke Energy executive Wilifred Neal, said his outlook on life was shaped by his father’s love of art and philanthropy. Some of his earliest memories are of accompanying his father on community service projects in underserved areas of Charlotte.
His father also took him to gallery openings at Charlotte’s Jerald Melberg Gallery and the studios of local artists. As a boy, he says, he often sat there thinking, “What am I doing here?” But he eventually came to love meeting the artists and hearing about their creative process.
Neal began drawing with pencils and oil pastels. At Independence High School, he was part of the International Baccalaureate art program.
When it came time to decide on a career, his more practical side won out. He put art on the back burner at UNC Chapel Hill, and later Duke University where he attended law school. After graduating in 2008, he was recruited by the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York City, where working all-nighters without going home was often expected.
“I would be in the office working at 3 a.m., and I wasn’t just sitting there listening to music,” Neal says. “I was constantly getting emails saying, ‘We need this now.’ ”
A trip home to Charlotte in 2010 with his high school sweetheart-turned-wife, Kerbie, was a turning point.
“My wife and I were walking uptown, and we were taken aback by the Levine Center for the Arts,” Neal says. “I had no idea what the Bechtler Museum was, but I was particularly drawn to it. We stood there and saw people dressed up and listening to jazz. We realized we could move back here and enjoy some of the cultural activities that we enjoyed in New York City.”
Neal landed a job in early 2011 at Wells Fargo, a company he says he is proud to work for because of its commitment to the arts.
He took part in two leadership initiatives: the Community Building Initiative’s Leaders Under 40 program; and the Arts & Science Council’s Cultural Leadership Training, which identifies emerging leaders and helps them develop into board candidates for cultural organizations in the community. Through one of the ASC networking events, Neal met Bechtler Museum president and CEO John Boyer.
Boyer describes Neal as a successful leader who is organized, passionate and steady.
“Brandon’s enthusiasm and ambition are infectious,” Boyer says. “He draws people together quickly and well, and gets their very best efforts and engagement.”
Boyer credits the Bechtler Young Visionaries with being committed to helping the community, but he also noted that the group knows “there is every reason to have as much fun as possible while doing it.”
When Boyer first approached Neal about joining the board, Neal was straightforward with him.
“I told John I wanted to contribute in ways other than providing legal services to the museum,” Neal says. “I really wanted to do something different than what I was doing in my job.”
As Boyer’s guest, Neal says, he attended a board meeting. During the socializing that goes on beforehand, Neal noticed a man who was dressed more casually than the others.
They started talking, and Neal found him to be charismatic and interesting. When they all took their seats in the board room, he was astonished to learn the man he had been talking to was Andreas Bechtler, who donated his family’s art collection to found the museum.
“That sealed it for me,” Neal says. “I wanted to get involved because here was this man who’s the benefactor of the museum, he’s so interested in giving back to the community and he’s so approachable.”
During the day, Neal advises Wells Fargo on risks they shouldn’t take. At the Bechtler, he’s enjoying helping them see risks they should take.
“When I asked if I could start a young professionals group, that was definitely a risk,” he says. “Charlotte isn’t big enough that our arts and business circles can be separate. We have to have both of them working together. It’s something that benefits both groups because having a strong arts culture is key to attracting businesspeople to move here.”
Neal wants the Young Visionaries to have a good time at the group’s parties and other fun events, but he wants to go deeper than that.
“We want them to become patrons of the arts. We want them to learn how to be art collectors and do outreach with schools. As the museum grows we want members of the Young Visionaries to grow in tandem.”
Balancing his job, family and community work means Neal is good at squeezing the most time out of a day.
“Instead of watching TV at night, I would rather be at a meeting at the Bechtler with the staff and Young Visionaries steering committee who’ve become my good friends. Giving back isn’t an obligation, it’s something that’s ingrained in me.”
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