An exhibition of pride
Since its launch 15 years ago, our Arcus Pride Art event has grown to be one of the biggest corporate exhibitions of LGBTQ+ art in the world. Arcus member Kane Dowsett explains how it promotes inclusivity at Clifford Chance and beyond.
At the first Arcus meeting I attended, I was asked whether I wanted to receive the LGBTQ+ or the ally communications from the group. It occurred to me my answer would mean me effectively coming out at work, which I was not sure I was ready to do at the time. Looking back, that really highlights the importance of the Arcus Pride Art Event each year – with it we make a statement and create an environment in which our colleagues, clients and friends can enter and feel entirely free to proudly be themselves.
While Arcus is the affinity network at Clifford Chance and is a supporting community people can opt in or out of as they see fit, Arcus Pride Art is the tangible face of it – a global event people can truly experience and take part in.
My role is to manage the brand identity for it and raise the profile, which means looking after all the communications, the look and feel and the key messages across all jurisdictions, which considers the nuances of our different markets.
That involves working with our Arcus network, global inclusion, marketing and events teams to identify a key theme that helps us all over the world start discussions with local artists, galleries and curators and either identify or create works to align with the event.
Focused in 2021 on the theme of ‘Change’, Pride Art 2021 featured a mix of virtual and inperson exhibitions in locations around the world, from Amsterdam, the Americas, Australia and Germany to Hong Kong, Italy, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 changed the world and 2021 provided a platform for us all to emerge from the past year, reflect on our resilience and come together in support of our LGBTQ+ and allies communities. Change can help create a more inclusive and diverse culture within our workplaces, our communities and our homes, so we wanted Arcus Pride Art 2021 to reflect that.
Also included in the event were a performance by the firm’s global (virtual) choir ensemble of Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It – the first song in mainstream culture to use gender-neutral pronouns (in the 1920s) – and Arcus Pride Art LIVE, a virtual event where artists and curators took the audience through their works accompanied by a live illustrator who interpreted their thinking.
The true strength of this event is that it is now completely global, so the idea was to make it accessible to everyone irrespective of whether they are in lockdown or not. Art is something that brings people together and is in many ways a starting point for dialogue as well as a way to campaign, so it’s the ideal medium for what we’re trying to achieve.
If the numbers are anything to go by, the event is certainly bringing people together. There was a significant increase in visits to the online Pride gallery compared with 2020, up by 1,840%, while the video of the choir’s performance was the top post of the month on the firm’s global LinkedIn page, attracting nearly 10,000 views. Another encouraging aspect of the event is the involvement of clients who partner with us every year and attend the exhibitions.
The industry in general as well as our clients are increasingly demanding we demonstrate and live the values associated with inclusion, mirroring a growing expectation for that in society too. Many people internally and externally have expressed they want to know more about the work we do to support LGBTQ+ communities beyond putting on events such as this. They want to know how we are helping the cause and what we are doing to bring about a situation in which we no longer need the Arcus network because it is understood everyone is equal.
For me, being involved in organising the event is a way of contributing personally to something the firm does that can genuinely make a difference.
I didn’t grow up in a generation where no-one would bat an eyelid if you identified as LGBTQ+ and I know there are still struggles and people’s experience is very different in other parts of the world. Being involved with Arcus has shown me I’m in a highly privileged position to be able to help people who don’t feel they have the ability or the means to be themselves. I’m reminded of the Mariam Wright Edelman quote, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and Arcus Pride Art brings acceptance and love right into the line of sight for many.