Here’s a Q&A with Ashlie Beach, Executive Director of the Kirkland Arts Center.
What got you interested in the arts center?
I’m incredulous that I lived in or near Seattle for 10 years before I heard of the Kirkland Arts Center! In 2017, I was invited to attend a show by a then 6 year old painter named Ira, who painted with oils in the style of Bob Ross. Proceeds went to Ekal Vidhyalaya, so I bought two canvases for $50 each—one of them is propped up on my desk next to my monitor as I type and the other is in our guest room. My 13 year old son keeps trying to purchase one of them for his bedroom—no luck for him yet!
Then, a few months later I was invited to join the staff as a part-time, temporary employee to cover a beloved coworker’s medical leave. I eventually became education coordinator, then education director, and now executive director.
Around the same time as attending Ira’s art show, I attended a private charcoals class with a friend, and I think it was then I manifested becoming part of a local art school community.
What do you expect from post-pandemic programming?
I am so proud of our community for surviving the dual pandemics of Covid and racism—both are still ongoing. Both still need our vigilance and diligence. We will restart 2D classes in the Peter Kirk building, and will continue to excel in our 3D ceramics offerings, which have been in studio (in person) for the last 12 months, thanks to Pat Colyar, Robert Wetherington, and stringent health protocols. Some classes will remain online only at the teaching artist’s discretion, and we will include new offerings both online and in studio. Our gallery has remained open due to the hard work and strategy of J. Gordon and Geneva Baldauf—in line with all safety protocols—and will begin offering live events once again. I encourage your readers to stop by, as our gallery is always free to the public.
What are your goals as executive director?
First and foremost, to keep KAC not only open, but thriving! This year we’re focused on engaging our current audience and reaching members of the greater Kirkland and eastside community who aren’t yet participating in KAC programming. Our current priorities include a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion work in all parts of the organization and reopening the building.
How has your family history with art influenced you?
I am the most excited by far about visual art in my family of origin, but my paternal grandmother was a fan of fiber arts like crocheting before millennials made it cool again. She also liked to sketch portraits of family members, and claimed we were descended from the Buonarroti, Michelangelo’s clan. Not sure if that’s just family legend! My brother acted in college, and was a member of the Groundlings in Los Angeles.
How has the Arts Center adapted to the pandemic?
We were—and remain—agile, creative, and strategic. We adjusted classes, schedules, and staff as needed. Everyone has pitched in: our board, advisory council, and donors have been so supportive; we are humbled and so grateful. Our programming and fundraising has become more thoughtful and deliberate as a result of the dual pandemics, and we have taken the opportunity to look seriously at our DEI practices and our role as a change agent in the creative arts ecosystem.
What can visitors to the Arts Center expect going forward?
More of the same quality programming, including our free gallery exhibitions, and a return to in-person classes and events. A greater emphasis on equity and inclusion, both in our brick-and-mortar building, and in our greater community. More partnerships with local arts organizations, and with community organizers. We aim to be a third space where people can gather, create and appreciate art, and eventually have a lending library and a sketchbook project like at the Brooklyn Art Library.
In the announcement of your new role, you said “Equity is being invited in; true inclusion is being encouraged to paint, throw, or sculpt.” How do you plan to work toward true inclusion at the Kirkland Arts Center?
As the Zen Buddhist saying goes, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” DEI work has to be woven into the fabric of all we do at KAC—it has to be mixed into the clay like grog—which is itself made from a number of materials, that then adds structural strength to the end result.