The Jester Group at Baird is a wealth management group that vows to partner with its clients to build an enduring relationship based on trust and integrity. The company fosters an incredible sense of philanthropy – not just among its clients, but also with its employees. The people who make up the company, some of whom live in Chatham County, have an intense desire for inclusivity and a drive to be involved in the community, supporting others.
We sat down on a hot, late summer morning in the cool of our A/C for a virtual chat with the Jester Group (Gene and David Jester, Cort Bennett, Tracie Legg, and their newest team member, Shelby Hall). Indicative of their inclusivity, every member of their team participated in our interview, creating a unique blend of responses to our questions – all of which emanate from the ethos the company works hard to build.
Why did you decide to support the CAC? I think about the CAC, and I think about “why art.” We, as a team, feel the arts are a wonderful way of bridging our past and the community’s heritage with the future and the new residents the future will bring. The arts can be a bridge between the past and the future. We want to be able to help tell the story of Chatham’s past, while blending it with all the growth that’s going on. The arts and the CAC can help do that.
What does art mean to you? The word that pops into my mind is expression. My oldest daughter is a dancer. She started at age two-and-a-half, and she’s danced her entire life. No matter what emotion you’re feeling, phase of life, trial or joy, it can all be expressed through movement. That’s dancing, and that’s art. Now my daughter has picked up painting – not because she wants to be an artist and have her paintings in a gallery or on display, but because painting is another form of expression for her. Expression is so important for kids. Even stepping outside of their comfort box is critical, and I’ve seen this when I’ve watched them try different forms of art. My son tried boys’ hip hop dance when he was little. I don’t think you have to be the best at the art form you’re doing. It’s your vision. It’s how you see things. It’s how you express yourself.
Why do you think the arts are valuable in Chatham County? It always comes back to kids. I have been really interested in and appreciate the way that the CAC has made a big push to make arts available to all communities and offered arts programs within the schools, throughout the county. I appreciate that, and I understand it because I was an elementary education major. There are so many benefits that come from putting a priority on arts in education.
One of the things we talk about a lot about is the importance of stewardship – for our clients, with our families, our communities. The CAC is really a steward of the arts for the community.
Chatham County is such a giant county, and there are many parts that don’t have the same access to art exposure or opportunities involving the arts as other parts of the county do. More and more in the world, it seems like the arts are less and less a priority – especially in education. We have an opportunity to encourage something we all really believe in for ALL parts of Chatham County.
How does art motivate you or affect you on a daily basis? For me, it’s always a grounding presence. It reminds me of something beyond my day-to-day and my work. I have a lot of art in my office to reflect different themes or times within my life, and I can dial into those when things are getting hectic to help remind me of what’s important.
I think of the arts that we experience throughout the day. When we wake up, our daughter jumps out of bed and dances – that’s art. Coming home, I see my son proudly holding something he painted at school – that medium is another art form that’s special. At work, we each have our own music on in our offices – that’s art. We enjoy art in many different forms throughout the day.
I think it comes down to finding your joy. That’s an important part of my life. You have to think about what makes you happy; how can you create the space to make yourself happy? I think art can bring that to life. It’s like a breath of fresh air. There are so many different facets of art – not just a picture on the wall. Art is so refreshing to be around and experience.
Art is something greater than itself.
Is there a specific element or program from the CAC that most excites you and why?
ClydeFEST! When we decided to sponsor ClydeFEST, it was very new to me. We went out and helped set up the day before the event, and I was amazed at the community that comes together to make it all happen. We were out there in the pouring down rain assembling the game stations that were so well thought-out. There was such a system involved, but it was so much fun, even before the children got out there.
The next day, I was volunteering at the ticket booth, and I would watch all these children come up to give their ticket. They were so excited. For them, it was so much more than just painting their critters. The bubbles, the mailboxes, the games, the food – it was all such a joy! It was sweet. We saw clients there with their grandkids, and we didn’t even know they would come. There aren’t a lot of events for kids like that anymore. It felt “small town homey” and most of all, it was so exciting. Hopefully, we’ll get back to that type of event after COVID.
The image I carry from that day is from the time when it was all over. I can see my two boys carrying buckets of games as we cleared the event out, helping pack it all back up. It was a full circle experience. I got to see them as a part of this larger community. They had the opportunity to be part of something that was larger than them. I wanted that for them. I’ve had that experience when the CAC has asked me to do things for the organization. It’s such a refreshing experience to see these types of opportunities through the eyes of my own kids.
Chatham County is increasingly complex and diverse. ClydeFEST is a place where all those different communities can come together around something of value. It serves as a bridge.
What would you say to others who feel there are more important causes to give to, especially during this time of COVID-19? I think we would all agree that there are pressing issues of information and medical attention that we must address instantly, but I do believe that a culture without art is lost. I believe that we all, our children in particular, need to be given an appreciation of things that are much greater than them. I think there’s a richness in the arts that we miss when it’s neglected, like when children don’t get music or art education in school. We’re tempted sometimes to think … oh, that’s just kids drawing pictures or this is frivolous – but it’s not. It’s actually the very fabric of who we want to be.
Through donations like yours, how would you like to see the CAC grow? I’d like to see the CAC grow in reaching the rural communities. As communities evolve, there’s this unfortunate chance that there could be a greater divide between rural and suburban areas – from healthcare to the arts to internet access to education. CAC has begun this journey, and being able to bring more to those rural communities would be wonderful.
Giving people a voice and allowing that voice to be heard through art. And also bringing voices beyond Chatham County into the county to help broaden everyone’s exposure.
For me, it’s all about bringing a community together, and it seems like the CAC does a great job of bringing people together. Let’s continue to do that on a broader spectrum. While not everyone has the same opportunities or resources, that doesn’t mean they’re not able to move forward in life in a positive way.
I’ve always coached sports, and it’s a similar idea. Sports are a place where people of all backgrounds come together with an opportunity to try something they weren’t necessarily able to do at home.
What would you say to young people who want to be involved with the arts? Get involved!!!!! What’s so wonderful about the arts and art in general, is that it touches us all so differently. I may look at a painting or sculpture or a dance performance and have a completely different feeling than every other person who has seen that. If something touches someone who is new to the arts, and it sparks something in their mind, they should follow it. Whether it’s getting involved, taking an art class, learning more about an artist, volunteering – follow that spark!
Art is like running, in the sense that you can do it anywhere without much equipment. It means that anyone at any time has an access point for starting an artistic endeavor when they want to. People sometimes fall short in being able to scale or scaffold their experience. You may start with pencil drawings in your room, but from there you need exposure to other people doing that and other people doing different forms of art. It’s really critical, and I think the CAC can come in and provide those experiences. The Artists-in-Schools program is a great example of how the CAC is doing this.
What would you say to other people who are considering giving to the CAC? People need art. Some people are driven to art for the outlet it provides. Having an outlet and releasing what you’re releasing can bring you joy. Art has been an outlet for kids and adults to find joy within the isolation of COVID. Art is critical.
If you are inspired by the Jester Group’s story and feel compelled to support artists and arts in education, click here.