Finding commonalities between global banking and disability arts / 22 July 2015
Never in a million years did I think that my job in the UK disability arts scene would take me to a trading floor of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, just off Times Square in New York City. Somehow that is exactly what happened yesterday as I accompanied artist Sue Austin on yet another amazing adventure that has come as a result of her artwork with the underwater wheelchair.
Someone at TEDxWomen in Washington DC said to Sue that doing a TED talk would change her life and they weren’t wrong! Since that talk and its feature on the main TED.com website back in the winter of 2012/13, Sue and the Freewheeling team have been able to disseminate the art work through a series of incredible opportunities including international TV appearances, a live performance in a swimming pool in Germany, speaking engagements in the UK, Europe and the United States (including one exceptional visit to NASA Houston to speak at their Technical Innovators Forum) and an exhibition at the European parliament in Brussels, to name a few.
Aside from trying to keep up with the language of finance on yesterday’s tour, we met some impressive people who are clearly very dedicated and passionate about their work, finding some similar traits in those who would otherwise seem worlds apart from disability arts. My lasting impression from yesterday is meeting a group of women who are all involved in Global Banking and Markets Women’s Leadership Council. Gender issues in this industry are clearly very relevant and although Sue is the person who has been invited to give an inspirational talk about her work, those women were equally inspirational to us. We heard each person’s own individual narrative about their position in the firm, a group diverse in itself, with people coming from all over the world, each with their own unique experience. Common themes arose in their stories, particularly that of confidence being vital to succeeding in what has historically and is still, to an extent, a male dominated industry.
These formidable women are devoted to improving the workplace by attracting a diverse workforce and valuing the distinctive approaches that people from different backgrounds and experiences bring. In the same week that the newly formed Women’s Equality Party in the UK announced Sophie Walker their first leader, it seems gender issues remain a hot topic for debate and transformation. Working in the UK arts sector is obviously a radically different experience from banking or politics. I have never particularly felt that my gender has been an issue or barrier to achieving my goals, although I’m aware that others may feel differently about their own journey.
What I think is incredibly exciting about this opportunity for Sue to speak to women leaders in the world of banking, is that the arts, and particularly disability arts, has the power to be inspirational and ultimately transformational, with relevance across any sector or walk of life. Additionally, meeting those people working in an industry that we only experience through the narrow lens of the media, reminds us that the issues we explore through the arts are human issues. Anyone can relate to them, then share and discuss them to further enhance and develop the way in which each individual contributes to and interacts with the world.
Today is preparation day for Sue’s keynote speech, which takes place tomorrow afternoon. Read, discuss, read, adjust, read, repeat. (And maybe find somewhere to grab a hotdog in the sunshine; we are in New York after all!)