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Ashlee Phillips, Culture Curator & Social Art Activist

Ashlee Phillips.

Speed Art Museum welcomes Ashlee Philips as the Community Connections Artist in Residence

 

By Sarah Carter Levitch
Photos provided by Ashlee Phillips

 

The Speed recently welcomed Ashlee Phillips to their six-month-long Community Connections Artist In Residence program. This program is part of our institution’s desire to reach out, amplify and empower the people by collectively creating a platform for individuals (not limited to visual artists) to share their stories and express perspectives on social and personal topics. Our intention is to co-create a self-sustaining community art program that can be critical, uplifting, progressive and transformative for the Russell Neighborhood. We spoke with Phillips to learn more about who she is as an artist and the work she will be doing through the Residency program, which will focus on Black women and their mental health.

Tell me about your background and who you are as an artist.

I’ve only been self-identifying as an artist since 2020, but I’ve been creative my whole life. My art and creativity stem from being a poet. I’ve been writing poetry since I could write. I’m also into photography, specifically iPhone photography and film; I’ve been doing it since around 2014. I’m also getting into film-making. I received my first grant from Kentucky Foundation for Women in 2020. I created an interactive fashion show called ‘The Divine Feminine: Sacral Chakra in Spring’ and a short film that allowed the women participants to discuss the experience.

I just got another grant from the same foundation to create a film focused on Black women in the West End of Louisville, which will create a space for women to tell their stories. It’s titled ‘N9 Women West of 9th: Capacity Couched in Chaos’. I’m going to be hitting on a few major topics, some uncomfortable, but I’m big on ripping the band-aid off. Everything I do is social justice-based, getting to the root of the matter and creating change through these art disciplines.

What happened in 2020 that pushed you to identify as an artist?

It happened for me in the summer of 2020, in the wake of the death of Breonna Taylor. I found myself at a crossroads. I was in the middle of my small business called Thrifting with Ashlee. I was sitting in my thrift store doing an interview with somebody from Atlanta, and they asked me about Breonna Taylor and things of that nature. At that moment, I told the interviewer that my art is my activism. I realized that who I am as a creative and an individual is an activist, and that activism can look different for everyone. I finally allowed myself to walk into what it is fully I know I’m capable of doing. The whole label I go by is Culture Curator and Social Art Activist.

What drew you to apply to the Community Connections Artist In Residence at the Speed?

At first, I wasn’t going to, but working alongside the previous Artist in Residence, Shauntrice Martin, allowed me to see myself bigger than I have before. It went from thinking, “no, I can’t do that,” to “why not me?” That’s an approach I’ve been taking as a creative. Why not my vision? Why not my style? Why not my embodiment? When I looked over the application and saw that the focus was Black women, which is so important to me, I felt like it was destiny. Even if I didn’t get it, the application was meant for me to understand that people are looking for the type of story I’m trying to tell through my art.

Jasmine Haines, Interpretive Dancer.

What does the Residency consist of?

It consists of leading workshops and creating an exhibit. I have an eight-week workshop and four one-day workshops based around talk therapy, art therapy and holistic healing. I will bring in a licensed clinical therapist, art therapist and holistic healer who will help provide the participants with resources that they may not have access to. The workshops will focus on the mental health of Black women and removing the stigma around mental health. It’s not a bad word and something you have to hide from; it’s very much real and something experienced daily.

For the exhibit, I will do an interactive installment, including art that I take from the workshops with the participants and my art. I’m big on thrifting, so I’m going to thrift many pieces to create a living room setting. When you walk in the museum, usually, it’s white walls with fancy portraits, but I want to get super funky with it and make you feel like you’re in your mom’s living room, your granny’s porch or your auntie’s house while also taking in the artwork. It’s all about tapping into all the emotions and senses, allowing people to be fully immersed in the experience.

What are your goals for the workshops?

I’m very intentional, so I always ensure that what I’m doing is authentic and transparent. When I say I’m creating spaces, you’ll never hear me say that I’m inviting these women, or allowing these women, or encouraging these women. For the eight week workshop, I’m simply creating the space for the women to invite themselves, allow themselves and encourage themselves to identify what mental health means, talk to the therapists, participate in the arts and crafts, and start the healing process, which can’t begin until the problem is identified.

The workshops are all about bringing resources in a way that’s more subtle than going to a therapist by yourself. The eight-week workshop will be a group workshop, with about 15 women max, because I understand the sensitivity and heaviness of what we could be talking about. It will start off by talking about what mental health is, and with each week, we’ll dive deep into topics like interpersonal relationships and self-love. A big goal for me is providing participants with things they can take away and share with others.

What are your goals for the art installation?

My goals are to show how multi-faceted I am as a creative. There will be photos on canvas of eight women in the installation, and the other big part is thrifting. I plan to refurbish and up-cycle thrifted items to show people the beauty of taking something old and turning it into something new.

What do you hope to learn from this Residency?

My biggest goal is to walk away being more connected, intentionally connected, with the community. Everything I do as an artist, activist and cultural curator is involved with the people around me. I’m aware that it takes a village, unity and a tribe. I’m hoping at the end I’ll be more of an accessible resource for my community and that the community will be an accessible resource for me. I’m excited to see how it all blossoms as I continue to make relationships with people.

For more information about Ashlee Phillip’s workshops and art, visit
speedmuseum.org/learn/community-outreach/community-connections-artist-in-residency

Questions?
Contact Ashlee at aephillips91@yahoo.com.