• Vishnuviraj Dhir

Exploring Travers Smith's CSR Art Programme with its CSR and Diversity Director (Chris Edwards)

Updated: Nov 4

One of my previous articles (‘Can businesses use Art to generate Blue Sky thinking) discusses the benefits of art in business – mainly its ability to spark creativity amongst employees.


Following up from this I interviewed Chris Edwards, the CSR and Diversity Director at Travers Smith, to learn more about the firm’s CSR Art Programme which helps and supports emerging artists.





Nemo Nonnenmacher, 'Hand I/II': Chromogenic Print 150 X 120CM (FRAMED)

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.


Chris’ Background:


Before becoming CSR and Diversity Director at Travers Smith, Chris studied and worked as an urban planner for over 10 years.


While Chris enjoyed his vocation, he found that the culture in the real estate and construction industry prevented him and others from minority groups to be their authentic selves.


As such, Chris decided to work for the LGBT+ charity Stonewall where he advised companies in the real estate and construction sectors on how they could be more LGBT+ inclusive. During his time at Stonewall, Chris also worked for law firms across the country: helping them become more LGBT+ inclusive – this is when he came across City law firm Travers Smith.


Chris was struck by the authenticity and enthusiasm of Travers in their aims to actively strive for diversity and inclusivity. Partners at the firm, including former Managing Partner David Patient, former Senior Partner Chris Hale, and the firm’s senior LGBT+ Champion Daniel Gerring, were already doing great work in this space, but there was a genuine desire to do more and to do better. Thus, when Travers opened a new in-house position of CSR and Diversity Director, Chris was more than happy to join the firm: from the get-go Chris has been running the firm’s CSR and Diversity Programmes.


1) Given its varying definitions how would you define CSR?


For me it doesn’t matter whether how you define it. What matters is what is actually done.


In the legal industry some have called it the ‘friendly face of law’, but I don’t think that’s right: it seems to suggest that everything else about law is unfriendly.

If we are to boil it down to simple terms, I see CSR as a platform for people and organisations to do good collectively.


We at Travers break that down into three pillars:


(i) Working with local communities: schools, colleges, local charities and community groups – helping raise aspirations and improve access to careers in City Institutions.


(ii) Pro bono legal work: providing free legal advice – our pro bono is done through targeted strategic channels. For instance, we work with victims of domestic violence, asylum seekers and charities aimed at empowering minority groups.



(iii) Charity Programs: we provide donations to nominated major charity partner, and also to a number of grassroot charities via our Foundation.





2) What is Travers Smith’s CSR Art Programme?


Origins:


The CSR Art program began after Travers Smith’s decided to fill its blank walls after a refurbishment of its office spaces in 2015. Instead of simply buying prints from retailers, the firm decided to do something creative which could complement its commitment to CSR.


They initially partnered with the art college at the University of Westminster to select artworks produced by final year students as part of their degree show. The Programme has since developed to include postgraduate students from the Royal College of Arts.




Gökhan Tanrıöver 'Confessionals': Silver Gelatin on fibre-based paper 70 X 50CM (FRAMED)

The Firm’s Art Program


Art graduates face complicated obstacles such as the lack of funding for materials and lack of experience in advertising or promoting their work.


To help them through these obstacles, Travers’ Art Program:


(i) Provides money to those art graduates from the University of Westminster and Royal College of Arts chosen by the firm’s art committee – their decision is based on the members’ personal preferences.


(ii) Showcase and arrange the sales of the students’ work, without taking a commission;


(iii) Offer emerging artists a professional development program which gives the skills necessary to embark their career: such as pro bono advice, branding and marketing advice, and exposure to world class curators – via the firm’s connection with the Serpentine Gallery.

Every year Travers Smith helps and works with 30 artists a year.

3) The program is designed to help artists, but how has the programme benefitted the firm?

a) Closer culture in the firm:


Given that the works of artists in the program have been bought by the firm, its employees and clients the program has fostered a closer connection in firm and with clients: Employees would converse about the works of art placed around the office, discussing their own preferences: ‘I love that work in the meeting room!’ Or ‘I think they should have picked another piece, instead of this one’.


b) We became a better employer


Secondly, the art program was great for facilitating talks in the firm regarding profound social discussions such as identity.


For example, we have invited artists from minority and under-represented backgrounds to the firm to talk about their work and their practice. Some of the issues covered at those sessions include black and mixed-race identities, colonialism, and beauty standards. Some of these discussions have led to tangible changes being made at the firm. For example, the photographer Devinya Thomas spoke about her work titled "Good Hair", and the challenges black people, particularly women, can face when presenting natural hair. This resulted in the firm re-examining its dress code policies to ensure they are as inclusive as possible - – thus we became a better employer.



Devinya Thomas 'Good Hair': Digital Inkjet Prints 84 X 60CM

c) Closer connection with clients:


Clients often come to our prize giving evening for the artists within the programme (prizes are awarded by an external panel of experts and a popular vote). This sparks discussions and deepens relationships with our clients.


Additionally, clients who are impressed with our Art Program ask for advice and services for facilitating their own respective art programs. This helps us be better service providers for our clients.


It must emphasized that our art programme is not client driven, it started and continues to be primarily for artists.


4) In your opinion which art piece has been the most memorable artist work from the program?


It's incredibly difficult for me to choose a single piece, but I found a series of work by Gökhan Tanrıöver to be particularly memorable and meaningful. Not only do I find the subject matter of Gökhan’s black and white photographs titled’ Confessions’ resonating but I also find his work incredibly beautiful and compelling. Gokhan was the winner of our "Emerging Talent" Award in 2018, as chosen by a panel of external judging panel.


Nemo Nonnenmacher's work, which explores the connection between physical and digital worlds, also continues to inspire me. Nemo was the winner of our firm wide "Popular Vote" award in 2018




Gökhan Tanrıöver 'Confessionals': Silver Gelatin on fibre-based paper 70 X 50CM (FRAMED)




Nemo Nonnenmacher, 'Hand II/II': Chromogenic Print 150 X 120CM (FRAMED)
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