Framing and Context

Framing and Context: Leading the Leaders: Equitable Leadership Transition from a Millennial’s point of view by Ashley Walden Davis |  June 5th, 2017

I am Ashley Walden Davis, the small-town girl with a big city attitude. I have been called a goodie two shoes, type A, task manager who turned all her homework in a week early, studied really hard, graduated from undergrad with a 3.98 GPA and cried – yes cried – in college when I got two Bs (French and International Business – dang the minor). It still hurts my heart today. I am the person now who prepares ahead of time for all my meetings, pushes the staff to produce higher quality work whether it’s in my job description or not, washes, dries, irons and hangs up all my 2-year-old clothes in his closet and plans our family vacations months in advance to the detriment of my husband.

Recently, I have been named the new Managing Director for Alternate ROOTS. Alternate ROOTS is a 41 year old arts and social justice service organization championing the work of artist-activists in the South. I’ll tell you a little about myself to begin to dispel the thoughts some folks have about millennials.

Millennials are roughly defined as being born between 1980 and 2004, however folks who primarily identify with the group are currently around 20-34 years old. This is the group that we will focus on as part of the workforce in the arts and culture field. To give you some background, there are some stereotypes out there about millennials specifically that we are lazy, non-committal, spoiled, and don’t work hard for things. We can dispel those misrepresentations right away.

Through years of research in published materials, interviews, and communication with my peer group, I have found that millennials are passionate self-starters who want more responsibility, invest in work opportunities that they care about, but demand more flexibility to live more whole and balanced lives. We are excited to have tons of new ideas, experiment, try them out, and have the ability to let go of things that are not working. Growing up with computers, tvs, and ipods, we are computer literate multitaskers who don’t fear technology.  

I was excited to learn that for the first time in the United States where we have three generations, as defined by the Pew Research Center, who are in the workforce at one time – baby boomers (51-69 years old), genXs (35-50 years old) and millennials (18-34 years old). This is a unique opportunity for creativity and productivity in the field, but is also causing some growing pains in learning how we each communicate, work, think, and learn.

I am 30 years old, a median aged millennial, who was on Facebook when you had to have a .edu address. I had computers, internet and cellphones from middle school through high school, and witnessed the 90s when the Unites States had a middle class and our parents made more money, factoring in inflation, than they do today. This is the experience that I come from.

Group shot (Celeste)

2016 APAP Fellows

About Equitable Leadership Transition

Taking my personal history in account, I broach the subject of Equitable Leadership Transition from a millennial’s perspective. I have a vantage point of an early career journey of moving into senior leadership in my late twenties. Equitable leadership transition is recognizing the humanity, honoring the history, and committing to the reciprocity of all parties to achieve a successful transition rooted in justice. Creating a culture of equitable leadership builds a stronger field over time, and that is why it is vital.

I chose to start this blog as part of my continued investigation of millennials in leadership in the arts and culture field, and wanted to showcase a voice of someone actually experiencing the leadership transition process. I am next generation leadership. Since November 2013, I have been exploring this idea with my band of friends, peers, and colleagues as part of the Next Generation National Arts Network which was started at the National Performance Network and Visual Artists Network annual meeting in New Orleans, LA. We are a coalition of artists and administrators from all over the United States who have set out to chart the course for being the future leaders of the arts field. This effort is lead by “next geners” who support one another through networking, skill sharing, resourcing, and gathering together.

You may even say my investigation started before then in 2011, when I was a Theater Communications Group Next Generation Future Leaders Award recipient. Since starting the APAP Leadership Fellows programs, I have interviewed colleagues who have experienced notable leadership transitions in the field – those who were the established leader, and those incoming. I have also read materials regarding leadership, millennials in the workplace in other industries, and about workplace culture.

Over the course of this blog, I will share my learnings, themes, and best practices that I have gathered on this journey, and hope that they can be especially helpful to you – the millennial. Not a millennial? Don’t fret! There will be some solid learning opportunities no matter what age, career level, or step in your leadership transition. Themes will include integrity and humanity within transition processes, core principles and values rooted in justice, the work environment of the future, reciprocal mentorship, shared power, senior leadership displacement, and alternative ways of working together.

I have benefited greatly from mentorship on every level, and believe I must pay it forward. Though I am a young leader with so much more to learn… so much I am eager to learn and to do… I want to share a portion on a topic that means the world to me… the future leadership of the arts and culture field in the United States and beyond.

Thank you for your attention, and I hope this blog inspires you.


About the blogger IMG_5014 2

Ashley Walden Davis, MFA Theater Producing, BA Theater Studies  

Next Generation National Arts Network | Alternate ROOTS

Ashley Walden Davis is the Managing Director at Alternate ROOTS, and oversees the day-to-day activities of the operations and staff, while working to achieve the long-range goals and objectives of the organizational strategic plan, which are grounded in ROOTS’ mission. Alternate ROOTS is a Southern based regional arts service organization with 41 years of history. As a member-driven national resource for artists and cultural organizers, we seek to champion social and economic justice.

A North Carolina native, Ashley is an arts administrator, theater manager, mommy, and wife, with an affinity for working within communities. Ashley lives in Georgia with her husband and son.

Currently, Ashley is an Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) Leadership Fellow. Ashley is also a founding leader of the Next Generation National Arts Network, a coalition of artists and administrators from all over the United States who have set out to chart the course for being the future leaders of the arts field.

She holds a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Producing from the California Institute of the Arts and a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies from Old Dominion University. Ashley previously worked with Cornerstone Theater Company, Towne Street Theater, Virginia Stage Company, and Elizabeth River Theater Company, and served on the Board of Directors of Appalshop.

Some honors include Theater Communications Group (TCG) New Generations: Future Leaders Grant, Cornerstone Theater Company Paula Altvater Fellowship, LA Stage Alliance Ovations Fellowship, Arena Stage Fellowship, Old Dominion University Outstanding Theater Student, and California Institute of the Arts Ahmanson Award.

Personal Thank Yous

I am someone who has benefited tremendously from mentorship on every level: personally, organizationally, and financially, with lots of support (because I was easy to love 🙂 ). However, on a serious note, I have received the support from school teachers Mrs. Morgan, Mrs. White, Mrs. Swain, Principal Nora Artist and Mr. Jones who invested in me as a young child in Ahoskie, NC, to Katherine Hammond, Jenifer Alonzo, Stephen Pull, and Erlene Hendrix at Old Dominion University, and Carol Bixler and Leslie Tamaribuchi at CalArts, Michael John Garcés at Cornerstone Theater, and Carlton Turner, Keryl McCord, Tufara Waller Muhammad and so many others at ROOTS, to Theater Communications Group, to LA Stage Alliance Ovations Fellow Program now to the APAP Leadership Fellows Program – I thank you for that support.