Blog Post

The Art of Executive Growth: Lessons from the CDO Collaborative Retreat

By Krista Lindsey
December 27, 2023

In October 2023, Seramount introduced an exclusive gathering for its members with the CDO Collaborative Annual Retreat, an event steeped in the spirit of innovation and intellectual exchange. Set in the inspiring environment of a safe and inclusive space, our CDO Collaborative members found that engaging with art mirrors the process of engaging with people and ideas—especially in DEI work. It requires patience, a willingness to revisit first impressions, and a deep listening to stories and histories that shape our viewpoints.

The retreat kicked off with an enriching cultural immersion at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., a renowned museum celebrated for its intimate approach to art. Guided by the collection’s lead educators, Anne Taylor Brittingham, Deputy Director for Education and Responsive Learning Spaces, and Hilary Katz, Head of Teaching and Learning, the experience went beyond a typical gallery stroll. Coupled with a speech and networking opportunities with the Horning Chair for Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion, Dr. Yuma I. Tomes, the tour evolved into a profound journey through the interconnected narrative of art, diversity, and inclusion. The experience at the Phillips Collection set the stage for a retreat marked by a nuanced understanding of the interplay between art and the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Art by Jacob Lawrence - The Migration Series

Jacob Lawrence, “The Migration Series, Panel no. 1: During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans,” between 1940 and 1941.

Beyond the Frame: Art as a Dialogue With Diversity

Art, with its universal language, transcends the barriers of speech and customary norms, making it a powerful catalyst for discussions on inclusion. During the CDO Collaborative Retreat, attendees experienced firsthand how art can gently disarm our defenses, encouraging open and honest dialogue. The seemingly simple question “What do you see?” initiates a journey beyond the canvas, prompting a shared exploration among viewers. As each individual voiced their unique interpretations of the artwork, the tour became a reflective exercise in perspective-taking, challenging one another to look beyond initial impressions.

Chevy Cleaves, Lincoln Labroatory

This collaborative viewing became an enlightening process. As attendees delved deeper into each artist’s life, technique, and intentions with guidance from the facilitator, they discovered layers of meaning previously unnoticed. Such revelations mirrored the process of understanding and appreciating the diverse tapestry of human experiences. Through this method of interaction with art, attendees learned how to lower guards and foster a more comfortable setting for tackling complex subjects like diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Lessons in Perspective from The Phillips Collection

The visit to The Phillips Collection was more than just an exploration of art; it was an introspective journey, a moment to meditate on the profound adage, “beauty and insights are in the eye of the beholder.” As we stood before each artwork, it became evident that while our eyes were fixed on the same pieces, our minds perceived them distinctly different ways. This divergence in perception honed our understanding, adding layers of nuance to both our vision and our experience.

CDO Collaborative members were struck by the immediate and pronounced shifts in perspective orchestrated by the tour facilitators, leading to significant insights. These shifts, though straightforward in execution—such as changing our physical position in the room, looking through colored lenses, or receiving additional information—revealed profound realizations about art and, consequently, about society. This approach, which at first seemed to involve only minor adjustments, proved to be a powerful tool for gaining major insights. More than just confronting biases, this method shined light on the vast amount of unknown information—the untold stories of our colleagues, the people around us, and the art itself. The revelations we experienced underscored the importance of understanding the complete narrative in appreciating each other and our world. This deeper comprehension of missing narratives was key to our understanding and significantly transformative.

Art of Aime Mpane Mapasa

Aimé Mpane, “Mapasa,”2012.

As Seramount President Subha Barry stated, “This experience at The Phillips Collection was transformative, not just in the fleeting moments of the visit, but it continues to resonate with me. Each time I reflect on that day, I uncover new insights and revisit those revelations, further enriching my understanding and appreciation of both art and the world around me.”

The universality of art means conversations about it can break through geographical boundaries and cultural differences, making them as effective in a virtual space as they are in person. The annual retreat’s participants walked away with a newfound appreciation for art as a tool for inclusion—a means to teach and learn DEI principles in a subtle yet profoundly impactful way.

Elevate Your Executive Journey with the CDO Collaborative

Are you intrigued by transformative experiences like the one described? If so, consider inquiring about the CDO Collaborative. As an exclusive membership platform, it provides C-suite executives with unparalleled access to pertinent forums, regular gatherings, insightful research, and valuable networking opportunities. Explore how the CDO Collaborative can enhance your leadership journey and connect you with like-minded professionals.

About the Author

Krista Lindsey
Krista Lindsey
Associate Director, Product Marketing