Behind the walls of Liberty Bank and Trust lies a treasure trove of African-American art — the passion of bank President and CEO, Alden C. McDonald Jr.
Alden J. McDonald Jr. has been a trailblazer all of his life. As president and CEO of Liberty Bank & Trust Co. — one of the top three African-American-owned financial institutions in the United States — McDonald is nationally recognized as an advocate and catalyst in the movement to bring minority businesses into the mainstream economy.
“It has been a privilege to be a part of spearheading dynamic changes in New Orleans that have been a positive force in the lives of so many of its citizens,” he says, as he sits in his spacious office on the sixth floor of Liberty Bank’s headquarters in eastern New Orleans.
The executive offices serve as a showcase for museum-quality art, including paintings, photographs and statues, all from prominent black artists in New Orleans and around the United States. Among the standouts are life-size statues of children by Woodrow Nash in a park-like setting. They stand in front of the elevator bank in the spacious atrium, welcoming visitors to the modern building.
The bank occupies a modern, six-story building just off I-10 in New Orleans East.
“Promoting African-American artists has been a long-time quest of mine,” he says.
A partial list of the noted artists in the collection include well-known Louisiana artists such as Clementine Hunter, Louisiana’s venerable, self-taught plantation artist who lived to be more than 100 years old; the late John T. Scott, winner of a $315,000 MacArthur Fellowship, commonly called the genius award; and the late Bruce Brice, whose work was a well-known fixture at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for many years. Other outstanding New Orleans artists in the collection include Terrance Osborne and Richard Thomas.
Woodrow Nash created the sculptures of African-American children that grace the atrium of the Liberty Bank and Trust Company’s headquarters.
Liberty Bank’s offices include a large storage room used as an art depository. Here, Civil Rights photographs hang on the walls amid a variety of work by noted artists. The room is so full that art has been stacked against the wall and in neat piles on the floor.
McDonald lights up when he talks about the treasures the bank has gathered.
“We never stop collecting — our plan is to open a special museum filled with work to honor African-American artists and photographers in the Liberty Bank building at Canal and North Broad streets,” he says. “It is right on the bus and streetcar lines where the rich and poor will be able to come and enjoy the beauty of the work of generations of talented African-Americans.”
Lisa Matthews created this unique chessboard of Civil Rights icons, including President and Mrs. Barack Obama, Mr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Cornell West and Jesse Jackson.
Penny Francis of Eclectic Home on Oak Street, was charged with the interior design of the executive offices. Francis’ challenge included incorporating much of the bank’s extensive art collection — which now numbers over 350 items — into the design of each individual space.
McDonald’s private office features a wall of windows that overlook land that remains vacant since Hurricane Katrina. He keeps a neat desk backed by orderly bookshelves. An array of photos, including several with President Barack Obama, are displayed on a credenza behind his desk. Family photos include his father-in-law, Judge Revius Ortique, a well-known Civil Rights leader and the first African-American Chief Judge to serve on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Photos of the McDonalds’ three children – Heidi, Alden “Chip” III and Todd – along with their spouses and children, also have a place of honor.
A gallery of portraits of McDonald’s family behind his desk also includes a photo of him with President Obama.
McDonald also displays his many awards, which include the Loving Cup award from The Times-Picayune, Fortune magazine’s “Portraits of Power,” and many honors bestowed on him by Black Enterprise magazine.
A graduate of Louisiana State University’s School of Banking and Columbia University’s Commercial Banking Management Program, McDonald began his career in 1966 at the International City Bank in New Orleans as the first African-American hired in the banking industry in Louisiana.
“Dr. Norman Francis, president of Xavier University, came to me when I was just 29 years old and said we needed to start an African-American-owned bank in New Orleans,” McDonald recalls. The Bank & Trust Company was founded in 1972.
McDonald has remained president and CEO of the bank since its inception. Today he ranks as the longest-tenured African-American financial executive in the country, with Liberty Bank growing from its initial asset base of $2 million to more than $600 million today.
“We are still growing — our most recent move was to acquire the First Tuskegee Bank through a merger agreement,” he says. “It was an important step for us.” Liberty Bank now has financial operations in eight states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, Missouri and Alabama.
Noted as a business and civic leader, McDonald has received many awards for his service on local, regional and national boards, including tenure with Fannie Mae, the FDIC Advisory Committee on Economic Inclusion, and the American, Louisiana, and National Bankers Associations. He is a former chairman of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, a member of the New Orleans Business Council, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the Port Authority of New Orleans, and he is a founding member and former chairman of the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Foundation (NDF), that has placed more than 3,000 first-time homebuyers into homes.
“I see the future as very positive for Liberty Bank & Trust Company,” McDonald says. “We will continue the rapid expansion plan that we began 10 years ago.”
He says he’s confident about the city’s future.
“New Orleans has come a long way since Hurricane Katrina, and Liberty Bank & Trust was one of the aggressive forces in the city’s rebuilding efforts. We have enjoyed some of our most successful and profitable years since Katrina, and we are poised to enjoy even greater growth in the future.”
Clay statues of musicians by Lisa Matthews.
McDonald’s favorite bronze statue of a Tuskegee airman is displayed on the coffee table in front of the couch in his office.