Salon Member Reflection: Ashley C. Smith

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Ashley C. Smith is a Salon Member from Lexington, Kentucky and is the first Development Coordinator at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center. She attended three Salons and offered her thoughts on her experience and the impact on her work. Along with other Salon Members, Ashley will attend the Salon Finale later this month to assess what was discussed, learned, and formed over the past year of conversations and how to continue into the future. We will share materials from the Salon Finale via our website, social media, and weekly newsletter, the Place Lab digest. 


When the application link to the 2016 Ethical Redevelopment Salon series arrived in my inbox, I was instantly intrigued. I was curious as to how a black man under 50 in a large urban area got anyone to listen to him in relationship to making meaningful impacts on severely marginalized and underrepresented populations. 

I found myself at a crisis point, a crossroads with my organization, a well meaning yet extremely tone deaf African American cultural arts center. Too often, we found ourselves airing on the side of irrelevance, not considered, and looked down on. My work in development had been paved with obstacles, hurdles, and dismay. Searching for a clear path with a sustainable future was my ultimate goal. If memory serves right, I think I watched the Ethical Redevelopment video about 50 times. I was hooked on the possibility of promise found in the 9 Principles DNA. After meticulous completion and near miss on the submission deadline, the seed of partnership, knowledge sharing, and increased exposure through a Salon membership was planted. 

My acceptance and participation in the Ethical Redevelopment Salon series fiercely assisted with my ability to identify three core values that now lead my life's work. I established a personal commitment to incorporating representation, home place appreciation, and equity. Used as filters in aligning my passions and professional approach to work, these values were realized through the interactive Salon Sessions. 

Representation. Following my first Session, I worked hard to slow my rapidly shooting thoughts as I unpacked words of wisdom from Session panelists. How does my organization, an agency with a special emphasis on African American cultural heritage, not have images of black folk hanging up? Anywhere? Due to my exposure to the diverse Salon network and the axioms of Ethical Redevelopment, I was able to guide my agency to embrace our rich African-American tradition and heritage. Bridging the Legacy, an intergenerational multimedia exhibit in the Lyric’s main lobby, explores the narratives of black families based in Lexington, Kentucky. Original work is created and financially supported through featured artists-in-residence for three-month exhibitions. This empowerment through reflection in public spaces has generated stronger community relations. 

Photo credit: Francis Lee Baker

Photo credit: Francis Lee Baker

Home Place Appreciation. As a native Kentuckian, it was not until 2016 that I fully embraced my home place. A singular narrative made popular by the state—poor, white, and uneducated—never really lent itself to adoration. My heart searched for the ability to tell the unique experience as an African American under 35 in the state of Kentucky. Connected with the diverse Salon network, opportunities made themselves available to gather information and make better the place I called home. Attempts to attract talent and experts of color like Theaster, who often live in urban places, to places like Lexington—which are mixtures of urban and rural sprawl, have under-recognized populations of people of color, and are prone to perceptions and judgements reinforced by stereotypes of rural America—often fall on deaf ears. Urban-based talents and experts of color often fail to see the value offered through our ingenuity and vigor, our intersectionality of economics, race, and culture in states such as Kentucky. The recruitment of this talent and expertise for knowledge sharing through participating and interacting with communities of color based in places like Lexington still presents a struggle. However, I believe the dial has moved closer in our favor to serve as grounds for innovation and partnership. 

Equity. Another aspect of Ethical Redevelopment that was enticing was the close proximity to national foundations such as Knight and Kresge. At the local level, the agency facilitating relationships with these entities iced out the agency I serve. Talking points on agenda meetings of being committed to equity and inclusion in philanthropy were washed out by actions of neglect through philanthropic redlining. It was through the Salon Sessions that I learned how to navigate foundation relationships and how to present a project that reaches a large public for the betterment of all. 

In all, my experience with Ethical Redevelopment has jump-started my focus, vision, and mission associated with my life's work. The opportunity to meet scholars, experts, and impassioned community servants was motivating and challenging. Learning from Theaster and his incredible staff was exciting and a call for holistic improvement. 

Photo: Windstream Creative

Photo: Windstream Creative