Ashley is an exhibition designer, community organizer and facilitator in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Name: Ashley Fairbanks
City/Town: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Where else can we connect with you online?
Who is your community?
The American Indian community in South Minneapolis, and young POC organizers/artists in Minneapolis/St. Paul
Give us a behind-the-scenes look at your average day.
I am an exhibition designer, community organizer and facilitator. I don’t really have an average day! I spend a lot of time meeting with people, talking and strategizing about how we get people of color into elected office, doing pop ed about racial justice and making art. I get paid to design campaigns and exhibitions, but my art seeks to tell stories that usually go unheard in new and creative ways.
What challenge in your life or work are you most interested in overcoming?
I am interested in eliminating the walls that keep us in sectors. As a person whose work is very multi-disciplinary, I am working to develop a strong narrative on why my work looks so different. I think the answers to some of societies toughest issues lay in the creative solutions found at the intersections of sectors and issues. But it can be a lonely place to work!
If you could do any job, what would you do and why?
I have created my own job, because the work I wanted to do just didn’t exist in one position. I want to continue to strengthen the facilitation work I do – teaching elected officials and leaders about racial injustice and the history of racism, and using creative techniques from the art and design world to tell unheard stories and activate citizens.
What is the most beneficial aspect of living in the OTA region when it comes to your career?
The Twin Cities and greater Minnesota have a history of a unique, populist form of activism, and of arts as a primary tool for activism. I love having a network of friends who are artists and makers, but also work to create positive social change for our community.
At what intersection do you live your life?
I live at the intersection of art and politics.
Where do you think good ideas come from?
All the places we’ve never looked. The dude waiting for the bus. The mom that just worked 80 hours to keep her kids fed. People who say they don’t have the answers. Friends making art until three in the morning. Tough conversations. Questioning everything.
What’s one current trend you think will change the world?
More millennials looking for work/life balance and not seeing a direct correlation between money and success.
What’s the best way to put inspiration into action?
Just go and make something right now. Stop talking about your ideas or thinking you need money or grants or the perfect client to do them.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
Quitting my job without a backup plan.
What’s your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?
It sounds cliche, but I don’t really think about failure. I’ve done a lot of things that were unconventional. I turned down a fancy East Coast college and went to Normandale. And the U. I have left jobs after a few months. But it’s all worked out to get me to a place where I feel like I am doing excellent work and have the potential to do so much more. I don’t think that failure is a real thing, but just a way of testing our expectations of who we are/what we deserve/the path to success.
Who do you hope to leave a legacy for?
I don’t want a legacy. I want a beautiful community that knows they made change happen – together.
Who is the most connected person in your life, and what personal characteristics make him or her so well-connected?
Probably Wintana Melekin, who is an organizer at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change in North Minneapolis. Wintana was a club promoter before she was an organizer, and she just inspires people to act. She talks to all people like they are equally important, and she listens to all their stories. She has a great social media presence, and despite being a tireless organizer manages to keep things upbeat, show her humanity and make real connections.
Who is the most creative person in your life, and why?
Mankwe Ndosi is a musician and more in Minneapolis, and she is the most creative person I can currently think of. I know too many! But Mankwe’s work constantly inspires me. She recently did a project called “Soundtrack of Phillips” where she worked with teams of people to record all the sounds of the Phillips neighborhood. She is also just an old soul, she is wise beyond her years, and always seems to bring a totally new perspective.
Who is the most community-focused person in your life, and how do they impact their communities?
Chaka Mkali, an organizer at Hope Community and one of the people I look up to the most. Chaka works everyday to think about how to make life better for people in Minneapolis. He is strategic and speaks truth to power. He questions things I would never think to question, because he is always trying to figure out the real intentions, and the real consequences for community. He also really cares about the people he knows, the people he meets and is a good dad. He never says he cares about the community, he actually shows it with his actions. And he really, truly believes, that the answers for the problems in communities can only be found in community.
What passion project are you working on right now?
The intersection of museums and street art. How do we use murals/street art/projection to tell untold stories from history? How do we use those to address critical issues we face today? I want people to see that placemaking doesn’t just have to be art for arts sake or just for fun, but that it can be about reclaiming spaces for people who have something to teach.
I don’t know anyone else who is doing the work that I am. I wish I did. After years of squeezing into jobs that didn’t quite fit, I started freelancing as an exhibit and graphic designer, and then also doing racial justice facilitation and political organizing. I’ve spent my career creating a tool box to be a one-woman campaign. I do photography, design, installation art and research. I make things everyday. I teach myself something new, or learn from someone else, every day. I’ve taught myself to do basic woodwork, welding and fabrication. I’ve done all of these things because I have this idea – that we can make museum-like work without institutions. I want to create small doses of local history that can be installed everywhere, in unexpected places. I want to tell stories that the history museums wouldn’t tell. I want to do this in an experimental way that brings together artists, historians and creates a catalyst for positive social change.
I don’t take no for an answer, and I move quickly. I really just love to be busy, both making and connecting. I want to change the world, and I am figuring out a little more everyday about how exactly I do that.