Celebrating 15 years of Arcus Pride Art
2021 marks the 15th consecutive year of Arcus Pride Art, the largest corporate-supported exhibition of art works by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT+) and supporter artists. Created through Clifford Chance's LGBT+ and Allies network, Arcus, Pride Art is one of our flagship inclusion events and is a key part of our commitment to raise awareness and empower and inspire people to become advocates and supporters of LGBT+ equality.
The initiative began life in the Americas in 2004, when the firm's US art programme was founded in conjunction with the firm's relocation to 31 West 52nd Street in New York. Conceived initially as an art committee to select and acquire artworks for the firm's new office, the programme soon expanded, developing a permanent collection of international contemporary art, five annual exhibitions presented by the firm’s Diversity Committee and its subcommittees, and ongoing art and cultural events that directly engage attorneys, staff, and clients, including talks by artists and curators and outings to galleries and museums.
Since it was first introduced, the permanent collection has grown to feature over one hundred works of diverse media by established and emerging contemporary artists. Installed throughout the New York office's reception area, conference rooms, and practice floors, the collection highlights Clifford Chance's belief that art enhances the working environment and offers a meaningful perspective that inspires dialogue, cultural awareness, and creative thinking.
And it was this belief that inspired the launch of Arcus Pride Art, an annual exhibition and programme hosted by the Arcus Committee that explores art, activism, and international social justice.
Launched in New York in 2006 with curator Jacob Robichaux, the initiative initially ran in the firm's New York office before it made its debut in London in 2008. There, Nigel Frank, who is an art consultant to the firm, invited artist Michael Petry to exhibit at and curate the inaugural exhibition. Michael agreed to do so, delivering a successful first event that thereafter became an annual one featuring gallery-quality work from some of the UK's most exciting LGBT+ artists.
With Michael serving as permanent curator, the London event went from strength to strength, featuring work by high-profile British artists such as Maggi Hambling and Andrew Logan. Its success also led to further expansion, as Pride Art launched in Amsterdam in 2014 and Hong Kong in 2015.
Hong Kong in particular represents something of a milestone for the initiative. The very first Arcus Pride Art exhibition there took place a year after the launch of Arcus in the Asia Pacific region in 2014 and featured a collection of works by local and international artists spanning a wide spectrum of media that, as the exhibition's brochure put it, represented a 'microcosm of LGBT identity in Hong Kong: complex, colourful, international, but at odds with 'tradition''. The event also featured images from Pride Photo, an annual international photo contest for photos about sexuality and gender diversity run by non-profit organisation the Pride Photo Foundation.
By 2016, the firm's Paris, Singapore, Sydney and Washington, DC offices had all joined the initiative; and by 2019 Frankfurt, Perth, Tokyo, Dusseldorf and Milan had all held exhibitions, helping Arcus Pride Art evolve into the truly global event that it is today.
"When we started Pride Art, there were very few corporations celebrating Pride," says Jacob. "Fifteen years later, in the Americas, we’ve exhibited artwork by over 250 LGBT+ multi-generational artists and allies and supported numerous social justice and community non-profit organisations. The expansion of the programme to twelve of the firm’s offices and the higher level of visibility and support for Pride programmes outside the firm is a testament to the distinct agency and potential art has to communicate ideas, foster community, and promote a more equitable society."
Due to the pandemic, the event has been held virtually for the past two years. Regardless, 2020's #VirtualPride featured five exhibitions, while this year's event features nine. Under the theme 'Change', it challenges perceptions and provokes thought and conversation through works of art exploring themes including relationships, sexuality, gender identity and expression and the human body. As part of the 2021 event, the firm's choir recorded a version of 1920's New York performer Cole Porter's hit song 'Let's Do It', in which he replaced the pronouns 'he' and 'she' with 'me', 'you' and 'us', while New York-based photographer Lolita Beckwith, London curator Michael Petry, and Melbourne curator and artist Jimmy Twin reflected on what change means to them in the context of their works in 'Pride Art LIVE: Exploring the concept of change', a live-animated webinar that is still available on demand.
Over the past 15 years of Arcus Pride Art, we have witnessed so much progress in some parts of the world but the journey towards equality is still only in its early days. Whilst progress has indeed been made in some countries, the vast majority of LGBT+ people still live in societies where they are denied equality, marginalized and persecuted. The importance of campaigning for and championing our commitment to LGBT+ equality is every bit as important now as it was 15 years ago. Arcus Pride Art continues to serve as opportunity for us to highlight the need to stand up for our colleagues and communities, and reaffirm our commitment to change.
Arranger and musical director: Bradley Smith
Sound and video editing: Catharine Danielian