LIFT x Virgin Campaign

An artistic intervention into global business

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 more than 50 global CEOs and Human Resources Directors. LIFT invited international artists to create a series of provocations designed to capture the imaginations of these business leaders, giving them the inspiration needed to enact change.


“This project gave LIFT the chance to connect change-making artists to people whose decisions affect a lot of people’s lives. Each of these leading international artists presented works that disrupt, asking audiences to re-examine the status quo of how experience divides according to 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 and CEO.

For the gathering, we chose to collaborate with artists whose work intends to change the way people relate to one another.

"We set LIFT the challenge of creating a bespoke programme of diverse work that would bring our team face to face with the lived experience of people from all backgrounds, to shift perspectives and challenge assumptions - they delivered just that. Curating a provocative programme with their local and international artists, the event has had demonstrable, long-lasting impact on our CEOs and HR Directors. The immersive training experience is definitely one that we will continue to explore with LIFT in future."
— Ernestina Potts, Head of Campaigns, Virgin

Clare Patey’s pop-up shoe shop A Mile In My Shoes invited business leaders to walk a mile in a stranger’s shoes while listening to their story. The work, which was originally co-commissioned for LIFT 2016, included 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.

In Trophy by Canadian company, STO Union, the CEO’s and HR Directors present met one of 10 storytellers from a diverse group of people LIFT has worked with on our projects in Tottenham, Thamesmead and beyond. Sitting directly opposite the storytellers, they heard unique and true accounts of a turning point in a person’s life. From a 70-year-old dancer overcoming cancer, to a young student’s experience of mental health issues and the impact it had on her relationship with friends and family, the personal stories shared encouraged empathy and open mindedness.

The work of Empathy Designer Enni-Kukka Tuomala (UK/Finland) and Performance Artist Noemi Lakmaier (UK) asked guests to consider how physical space and limitations can impact 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. They relinquished 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) asked CEOs to question the nature of business itself. Participants asked each other difficult questions about their personal relationships with money and power, and imagined how they could be more radically generous to their customers and employees.

Alongside the artistic installations, Virgin also invited LIFT’s Artistic Director/CEO, Kris Nelson and Empathy Designer/LIFT Trustee, Enni-Kukka Tuomala, to discuss the importance of empathy in the workplace.


Concept & Curation:

Beki Bateson
Jon Davis
Kris Nelson


Clare Patey (London)
Enni Kukka Tuomala (London/Finland)
Phoebe Davies (South Wales)
Scottee (London)
STO Union (Quebec)
Noemi Lakmaier (London/Austria)


Christina Kyomi Evelyn Brown
Elsabet Yonas
Forogh Akbari
Hamza Nadeem

Jackie Richards
Jelena Budimir
Jordan Whitby
Lou Armour
Sarah Conn
Selma Nicholls
Theo Omambala


Ingrid Guyon/ Fotosynthesis