Being: Persistent | Duke Catalyst

Ashleigh Smith is a graduate of the Trinity School of Arts, class of 2020. She reflects on her first-year post-Duke and what it was like grounding her career as a woman of color in a field that didn’t have many that looked like her. Smith answers the question, what do you do when your major doesn’t directly connect to a given career?

Ashleigh Smith, T’20 Art History

In my first year post-grad, I took a leap of faith. I studied art history for all four years of undergrad, and during that time worked in museums across the world. I had a wonderful time learning about different art, different cultures, and finding my place in the field as a curator. However, throughout that journey, what was consistently clear is that I, as a Black woman, was a minority in the field. I didn’t have many fellow interns or supervisors who looked like me or understood my cultural experience. This didn’t deter me from the field, but it did show me that there was a space that was needed to help young curators of color find community, mentors, and visibility in the field. So often I heard people say, “there wasn’t a pipeline” of diverse young people interested in art history and museums. However, over the course of my four college years, I made friends at conferences, workshops, and events that proved that that wasn’t the case.  

So in the summer of 2020, I launched something called The Curator’s Pick. The Curator’s Pick is a collective for young curators of color where young people can post their own content, use our platform to launch their own personal brands as curators and find a community of like-minded young professionals. In the past year, we’ve collaborated with major art influences, gained over 60 members, and have amassed around 2200 followers across our various platforms. This feat was lead by my personal mission to the community. I was active in the Black community and arts community at Duke because I am motivated by helping others. I love the way community has the ability to build us up as people and I know that a great community requires an INVESTMENT in community. Feeling deeply connected to the art world, and to all the friends I made during my early career, I felt compelled to do this project in order to give something meaningful to a community that has truly given me meaning and purpose over the years. The Curator’s Pick is a lesson in perseverance but also in the power of community. We’ve helped people create professional connections, receive new job opportunities, and above all else–helped people feel seen and connected in an industry that for many POC, isn’t the case. I feel proud to have created a space like that for a community that has poured into me both personally and professionally, and I’m excited to see what’s next!

By KJ Juett
KJ Juett Catalyst Fellow