Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashlyn Davis.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve always had a passion for the arts. From a very young age, I connected deeply with creative spaces and the creative act—whether writing, playing music, painting, or photography. At the same time, I’ve always found analytical problem solving just as creative as art-making.
While I was earning my BA in Art History from the Pratt Institute in New York, I became very interested in arts administration, because it combined most of my strengths with my interests. After graduating, I spent five years in New York working with other non-profit art spaces and book publishers, primarily in research and writing capacities—as a grant writer, fundraiser, or copywriter. But, I found that I really missed being in a day-to-day dialog with photography. So, I moved to Austin to complete my MA in American Studies at the University of Texas, where I focused on the history of photography. Throughout my graduate studies, I continued to pursue other development, curatorial, and editorial projects, including publishing a book, Islands of the Blest, with the artist Bryan Schutmaat.
The month I graduated, I accepted a position as the Director of Development at Houston Center for Photography. Entering the organization as the lead development staff person primed me in many ways for my current role as the Executive Director. It enmeshed me in the community, allowed me to work very closely with the board and other staff members, and it thrust me into all the support aspects of the institution.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I graduated with my BA in 2009, a year after the stock market crashed, which made it difficult to immediately find a job—especially in the arts. I had to learn how to apply my training in art history to another field; so, for three years I worked in the Advertising and Promotions department for Viking and Penguin Books. It was an incredible experience that honed my copywriting skills and helped me to develop a sense for the short, quick, pitch—something that has proved invaluable in my current role at HCP. It also made me fall in love with books in a whole new way. Some of my favorite writers came from picking up books on the “free shelf” at the Penguin offices; contemporary writers like Rebecca Solnit and Geoff Dyer who interwove a discussion of photography and art into their explorations of place, politics, and identity. Eventually, it all led me back to photography in a round-about way.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Houston Center for Photography – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Houston Center for Photography is a non-profit exhibition space, education center, publisher, and community collaborator. Annually, we present over 12 exhibitions, both on and off-site, offer over 300 classes for over 2,000 photographers of all ages and levels of experience, publish 2 issues of spot, the only Texas-produced publication about fine art photography, award 2 photographers fellowships of $3,000 each, and work with over 15 area hospitals, schools, and community centers through our Access and Community Education program via our mobile photography education unit, “the Flash Drive.” In a nutshell, we exist to connect our community with photography and through photography, with important issues about our world.
We are one of the only photography organizations in Houston focusing on the presentation of contemporary work, from local to international artists, emerging photographers to icons in the field. We also offer the only public photobook library in the city, with over 4,000 volumes of artists’ books and texts on photography’s history, and we have the only publicly-accessible digital darkroom. In many ways, we fill an important niche in the city.
How do you define success?
I define success in a couple ways. The first is impact, which for me isn’t just about numbers; it’s about making a difference on a personal level. Did what we do show our visitors something they’ve never seen before, make them think about themselves or the world in a different way, or provide an opportunity to grow—as an artist, a student, or community member? I love hearing personal stories from our visitors about our exhibitions, classes, magazine, or the Flash Drive and its programs!
The second metric is more of a personal one—it’s about the experience of getting to the goal. It’s not just about whether or not I had fun while I worked, but if I was challenged, intellectually engaged, and learned something about more than the task at hand. For instance, a budget can illustrate an organization’s true values or its programming can give you insight into its governance. It’s all intertwined, and finding those links is the fulfilling part of even the most tedious tasks.
- Address: 1441 West Alabama
Houston, TX 77006
- Website: www.hcponline.org
- Phone: 713-529-4755
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Exterior image) Kristy Peet; (Headshot) Allyson Huntsman