Ashley McKenzie-Barnes

"I’ve spent a lot of time working as a hybrid in both the corporate creative agency sector and the non-profit sector, which has given me an interesting perspective on what it means to be a black female in the industry."

The Background:

I have spent a lot of time working as a hybrid in both the corporate creative agency sector and the non-profit sector, which has given me an interesting perspective on what it means to be a black female in the industry. Having got my creative start over 13 years ago within media and entertainment, I eventually moved into the corporate side of advertising and marketing, while acquiring a dissimilar, grassroots professional experience with non-profits and charities across Canada.

The Reality:

As I became more seasoned in my roles and senior in my experience, I started to become aware of growing themes in my workplaces and contracts that were disheartening. Why was there a strong reflection of myself in the grassroots setting, but very little in these corporate institutionalized workplaces? When it came to the non-profit sectors, why was there such a significant decrease in pay and lack of job stability and/or permanence in comparison to corporate?

The Experience:

Within the non-profit space, I had the opportunity to exhibit leadership in meaningful work, stay connected to the community and unite with like-minded individuals. 

In my corporate positions, I was developing strong technical skills, adapting a knowledge for client relations and management, while producing notable commercial work for structured projects with generous budgets.

 At times, I was divided between two realms and it felt like I was invariantly living a double life. The conversations within the two settings seemed to be different. The internal processes and policies varied. From the philosophies about the importance of social impact, to scarcity of team and cultural diversity; the two were distinctively unalike. 

While there was and may continue to be a clear institutional divide, I continue to stay conscious and grateful of the unique position I am in. As I engage with and contribute to a variety of undertakings and diverse audiences, I am able to leverage my relationships, skills, and experiences to inevitably further the growth of the organizations I work with.

The Ask:

I believe we need to visualize and manifest ourselves in the places where we don't see enough representation. While it is a slow process to change systematically, we can continue to build and create spaces that support who we are in both the community and larger establishments. There is an ask here to not limit ourselves, both personally and professionally by setting self-imposed or superficial limitations. Everything starts with us.


Ashley McKenzie-Barnes is a Creative Director, Curator, and Artist with over 12 years of experience in the agency, broadcasting and media, publishing, charity and non-profit sectors.

Most recently, Ashley served as the Creative Director for Canada's leading conservation charity, Canadian Wildlife Federation. She has conceptualized and executed a complete brand refresh and integrated campaign for Virgin Radio and Free the Children. She's worked with clients such as CBC, Toronto Star, Sway Magazine, Yahoo! Canada, Alliance Films, Rogers, CNE, and Bell Media.­

As a visual artist, she has been commissioned to create custom pieces for collectors in Canada and the USA and her art has been showcased inside institutions like the Royal Ontario Museum, CBC's Glenn Gould Studios and Brampton and Toronto City Hall.

She is not a stranger to the community as she has worked with The Remix Project as a Creative Arts Program Leader, and curated over 20 exhibits across the GTA, including the first art showcase for the record-breaking production "da Kink in my Hair". This work also includes 7 years of visual arts programming for MANIFESTO Festival of Art & Culture and as a resident curator for Daniel's Spectrum.

See Ashley's work here.