Commerce's ERGs find a unique way to build community art.
When a group of leaders from one of Commerce Bank’s employee resource groups (ERGs) approached senior Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategy and communications leader Nikki Storms with a unique idea, she was immediately excited.
The idea was simple: give several of Commerce’s ERGs — employee-led groups whose aim is to foster an inclusive workplace, provide support in personal or career development, and create a safe space where employees can bring their authentic selves to work — an opportunity to curate an art exhibit at the Box Gallery, a community exhibition space in Commerce’s Kansas City headquarters that is underwritten by the bank. The Box Gallery typically features exhibits that reveal Kansas City’s cultural arts and history, and the concept from the ERGs would align with that philosophy, while staying true to their missions of advancing inclusion.
“I studied art and art history in college, so the concept really resonated with me,” Storms says.
“I liked that it was about finding creative ways to amplify our support for the different social identities we have at Commerce and help promote the missions of our ERGs. We thought it was a great way to raise awareness around what they do, not only among our other Commerce team members but to anyone who wanted to visit the Box Gallery and view these exhibits.”
Lacy Haden-Peaches, a senior DEI program manager who is involved with PRIDE, Commerce’s ERG for the LGBTQIA+ community, was part of the group that conceived the program idea. “We initially thought it would be a great opportunity to bring local LGBTQIA+-identifying artists to the Box Gallery to highlight the great work they were doing,” she says. “We wanted it to be an interesting way to start conversations. From there it only made sense to expand the idea to include other ERGs as well.”
Robin Trafton, the Box Gallery’s curator, says each of the ERGs involved in the program identified a Kansas City-based nonprofit with which they could collaborate on developing an exhibit. “Sometimes the nonprofit would select the artists, and other times members of the ERGs assisted with it,” she says.
“For example, RISE [Commerce’s ERG empowering women] worked with the InterUrban ArtHouse, which suggested some of their member artists for the exhibit. The ERG members thoughtfully selected two artists whose creative practice explored historical issues and modern life from a woman’s perspective. The result was an exhibit the group called ‘Rise Together.’”
Other exhibits included:
- “Full Volume,” presented in partnership with No Divide KC and PRIDE. The exhibit featured colorful installations, drawings and textile work that represented expressions of queer joy and encouraged visitors to explore.
- “Recuerdos (Memories),” presented in partnership with Mattie Rhodes Center and VIBE, Commerce’s multicultural ERG. This exhibit explored themes around Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday also known as Day of the Dead.
- “To Secure These Rights: Harry Truman and Civil Rights,” presented in partnership with The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum and SALUTE, Commerce’s ERG for military veterans. The exhibit highlights President Truman’s desegregation of the military and civilian government workforce, as well as his support of civil rights in America.
Each exhibit opened with a reception event that was open to Commerce team members and members of the community. “At each of these gatherings, I heard gallery visitors sharing personal stories or family connections to the theme,” says Trafton. “People felt a connection to the creative work and had fun, which was great to see.”
As Haden-Peaches explains, the program served as a great opportunity for ERG members to showcase their communities and highlight their cultures. “PRIDE’s exhibit was, for me, something I had a very personal reaction to,” she says.
“To see this idea come to life in such an authentic way was powerful. There was such a strong sense of community around it. People who walked into the installations essentially became part of the exhibit, and I think it had a tremendous impact on them. It was one of the highlights of my career at Commerce.”
Storms says the exhibits have been very positively received by those who have viewed them. “I’m consistently hearing people who have walked through these exhibitions say that they learned something new about a social identity different from theirs or about a different culture,” she notes. “For example, many people who visited the Dia de los Muertos exhibit said that while they had heard of the holiday before, they grouped it together with Halloween and didn’t understand it’s centered on remembering those who have passed. Our exhibit changed that. Many people who visited the Harry Truman exhibit didn’t know he was such a strong advocate for minorities in the military. These exhibits have really been a great way to bring people together to grow in allyship while getting acquainted with some great community organizations.”
Haden-Peaches is glad the program has been a success and that Commerce supported it wholeheartedly. “I think it’s great that Commerce is willing to create spaces for our team members to showcase what’s important to them, their passions, their cultures, and to do it all in a unique way,” she says. “When you work for an organization that is intentional about creating those kinds of spaces, it makes you feel heard, validated and supported.”