LIFT: An artistic intervention into global business
10th December 2018
In October 2018, Virgin Group invited LIFT to shake up their annual global CEO gathering. They asked us to curate a programme of immersive, artistic interventions that would relay experiences of empathy for an audience of over 50 CEOs and Human Resources Directors from around the world. LIFT invited international artists to create a series of artistic provocations designed to capture the imaginations of these business leaders and give them the inspiration to enact change.
‘This project gave LIFT the chance to connect change-making artists directly to people whose decisions made in the business world, in turn, affect a lot of people’s lives. Each of these leading international artists presented works that disrupt and delve deeper into the status quo of how people experience divides around class, ability, race and gender. Their presentations invited audiences to consider the interior lives and histories of the people around them differently and to check their own power and entitlement.’
Kris Nelson, LIFT Artistic Director & CEO.
Trophy storyteller Theo Omambala with two CEOs
Ernestina Potts, Head of Campaigns, Virgin Group
A CEO during A Mile In My Shoes
We were able to profile artists whose practices work directly on changing relationships between people. The programme included Clare Patey’s A Mile In My Shoes, a pop-up shoe shop that invites its customers to walk a mile in a stranger’s shoes while listening to their story. The work, which LIFT originally co-commissioned for its 2016 festival, includes stories from a Nigerian hairdresser who now runs his own barbershop in the UK and talks of the psychotherapeutic nature of his job, a disabled nurse from Mauritius who has overcome many personal barriers and finds reward in helping others in her community and the mother of a trans man who talks of her own journey understanding and coming to terms with her son’s transition.
The business leaders were also invited to take a seat in Trophy by Canadian company, STO Union. There they met one of 10 storytellers – a diverse group of people that LIFT has worked with on our projects in Tottenham, Thamesmead and beyond. Sitting directly opposite the storytellers, the small groups heard unique, true accounts of a turning point in that person’s life. From the story of a 70-year-old dancer overcoming cancer to a young student’s experience of mental health issues and the impact it has had on her relationship with her friends and family.
Enni-Kukka Tuomala with a CEO during Embodying Empathy
While the stories of others brought personal accounts of shared humanity, the work of Empathy Designer and Artist, Enni-Kukka Tuomala, (UK/Finland) and Performance Artist Noemi Lakmaier (UK) invited the business leaders to consider how physical space and limitations can impact on our ability to connect with and understand others. In Embodying Empathy, Enni guided the groups through a physical journey exploring the actual space in-between them – challenging interpersonal distance and revealing how our interactions are often non-verbal. Noemi, a wheelchair-user herself, asked the participants to look at relationships around power differently as they relinquish their own physical control by sitting inside ‘weebles’, weighted spherical objects that turn everyday activities such as shaking hands or drinking tea into complex tasks.
Finally, iconoclast performance maker Scottee (UK) created a piece asking CEOs to question the nature of business itself. Business leaders asked each other difficult questions about their personal relationships to money and power and imagined how they could be more radically generous to their customers and employees.
Two CEOs experiencing Noemi Lakmaier’s weebles
As well as the artistic installations, Virgin invited LIFT’s Artistic Director/CEO, Kris Nelson and Empathy Designer, Arist and LIFT Trustee, Enni-Kukka Tuomala, to discuss the importance of empathy in the workplace and ways in which art can help us understand others.
Concept & curation: Beki Bateson, Jon Davis & Kris Nelson
Lead artists: Sarah Conn & Allison O’Connor (STO Union)
Storytellers: Christina Brown, Elsabet Yonas, Forogh Akbari, Hamza Nadeem, Jackie Richards, Jelena Budimir, Jordan Whitby, Lou Armour, Selma Nicholls, Theo Omambala
A Mile in My Shoes
Lead artist: Clare Patey
Produced by Ania Obolewicz at Artsadmin and facilitated by Georgia Keeling
Lead artist: Scottee
Performed by: Stefan Fae & Roxanne Carney
By Enni-Kukka Tuomala
Created and facilitated by Noemi Lakmaier
Images: Ingrid Guyon
An Imagine 2020 (2.0) project, supported by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.