Ashleigh Kane, Writer, Editor, Creative Consultant, Art Buyer & Curator, London

Ashleigh Kane, Writer, Editor, Creative Consultant, Art Buyer & Curator, London

ART

INTERVIEW

10 MINUTE READ

WORDS BY

Rosie Byers

Hey Ashleigh, can you introduce yourself? 

Hi! I’m Ashleigh Kane. I’m 35, originally from Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been living in London since 2009. 

 

What is your job and what does this actually mean?

I’m a freelance writer, editor, creative consultant, art buyer and curator. I juggle a lot of roles, mostly because I’m very curious and pulled towards creativity. That said, everything I do ties back into culture, particularly art and photography. I’m also the Arts & Photography Editor-at-Large at Dazed, which means I’m not based in the office. Compared to the in-house role I had for years, I now have a much smaller remit but I continue to contribute in a variety of ways, whether in writing, consulting, representing the Dazed brand or working on white-label projects.

 

So your day-to-day is highly varied… you’re on your way to meet Manchester United right now. What are you doing with them?

That’s part of my freelance work with Thursday’s Child. They’re a platform for unrepresented photographers, filmmakers and digital creators, connecting the dots for artists who don’t have an agent going out there for them.

"If I can be a conduit for when people need someone, then that brings me joy."

You’re in a great position to be that person connecting the dots. Through getting pitched to both at Dazed and your freelance work, you’ve got this huge bank of knowledge about emerging artists. Why is it important for you to actively connect people in real life?

It comes from me being from Australia and having come over here when I was 20. I was so hooked on seeing what was going on on the internet. It was the time of blogs and people were going to events that were just so different from my reality in the southeastern suburbs of Melbourne. I had no idea how to connect the dots myself, being there. It’s always important to me to try and make that journey less difficult for someone else. If I have a contact and I can be a conduit when people need someone, then that brings me so much joy. Also, if I can be someone’s point of compass – “Hey, what do you think of this?” or “How do I find an email for this?”. All that stuff was so unclear for me back in the day.

 

How did you get into the industry once you moved over to London?

As soon as I got here I started working in restaurants, and I did that for five years. It’s so difficult with the creative industries – as everyone knows, if you don’t have somewhere to stay when you come to London, you have to work full-time to be able to afford to survive. Even then, I couldn’t get an internship as a writer because I wasn’t coming from a uni. I didn’t have an impressive portfolio and I didn’t have a network. So I applied for a receptionist internship at Dazed and that’s how I got my foot in the door. I saw that as my chance to meet people and, for the first time in my life, be in those spaces where I could start to connect the dots. That wasn’t until I was 25, so it took a long time to get there. 

 

Interning is a really intense time – it’s such hard and thankless work, but you’re also so excited by everything. You just want to take it all in and feel lucky to be in whatever room you’re in. 

You’re so wide-eyed. I don’t even remember sleeping that much. They’re like, “Can you transcribe this Marc Jacobs interview at 11pm? I need it in an hour.” And I’d be like, “I’m getting out of bed, I’m doing this, I’m loving life.” And I genuinely was loving life. 

How did you find being on reception at Dazed, having that access but not being in the centre of it yet?

That’s really interesting actually, because I still consider myself on the periphery. I do a lot of art stuff but I’ve never gone to art school and I’m not institutional. Being a receptionist at Dazed, and being in the building but still being on the periphery, I was just so excited to be there. I didn’t even think I had a chance to be a writer, so when I got there I was so grateful.

"The pace is kind of insane but it worked because I was hungry for it."

How did you break through that second door and start writing for them?

Harry Pearce, who is now at Protein, was our Office Manager. As soon as I started at reception, he was like, “What do you want to do?” That’s such a helpful question to ask. I said I wanted to be a writer and he introduced me to the editorial team. I would do their transcriptions overnight and send them back before they got into the office. I always think it was a great strategic move on my behalf to be on reception because I had to say hi to everyone. I gave everyone their mail! 

Eventually, [former Dazed Editor-in-Chief] Isabella Burley said, “Could you write this thing for me?” It was like handling the most precious thing ever. It was so basic, 200 words writing about a video, but I was like, “This is my chance!” She loved it and that’s when I got in there and onto the editorial team. Dazed is a lot of things but the one thing everyone’s always said is that it’s always been great people. It wasn’t like a bitchy fashion magazine. It was welcoming and super nurturing. Isabella Burley sat me down and showed me how to do things. She’d explain the reasons why she was editing something or why I should take this tone with a piece. She gave me opportunities and threw me in the deep end. 

When I eventually got a job there, which happened about a year after I started interning, I was commissioning stories on my first day as an assistant. I’d never even been properly commissioned by anyone. People call it the “School of Dazed” and it’s so true. You learn on the go. The pace is kind of insane but it worked because I was hungry for it. 

 

You’ve opened so many doors for yourself by being enthusiastically available and hardworking, which is so admirable but also quite relentless and exhausting, especially when you’re not getting paid well. How did you deal with that mentally?

It was. But I’m actually assisting someone at the moment with admin-y things. She’s a very inspirational curator and she’s got a career path that I want to emulate someday. She was like, “Ashleigh, this is way below what you should be doing and I can only pay a basic rate.” But I was like, “No, I want to learn from you.” I see so much value beyond the monetary, which is what I saw back then. It’s just really difficult to be able to get yourself into that position where you can work for free or for a minimum hourly wage. It took me so long to be able to intern, so I knew I needed it to be as worthwhile as possible. And to be honest, with helping this amazing art curator, I’m kind of in the same mindset. It’s very strange to be going in and presenting to Manchester United as this figure who knows what I’m talking about and then be doing admin tasks. But that doesn’t bother me. I don’t have any ego about it.

It’s so important to not have an ego and to know that, no matter how established you are, there’s always someone that you can learn from. 

Oh yeah. I’ve learned so much from working with youth clubs and young people. I don’t have a degree so, for me, the only way I can learn is by observing other people and then looking for that roadmap. When I was trying to be a fashion writer, I would literally Google “how to be a fashion writer” all the time. It’d be the same one article on Cosmopolitan with all these girls that went through the standard, traditional routes – which is great if you can do that, but a lot of people can’t, and I couldn’t. That’s why I think sondr is so brilliant. I would have loved to have this as a kid.

I’ve always leaned on my network and I think even if you’re young you can do this. I was at LCC the other week with uni students and they were like, “I need to get a stylist.” I was like, “You must have friends or other students who would be thrilled to style the shoot.” I think they think that’s not good enough but when I was starting out everyone was finding their feet. No one was as polished as they are now, but those are the people I looked to for advice or to sense check something. That comes from not having gone to uni and having to carve out my own community pretty immediately, to be able to get through the industry.

"I'm still making my way through my career and I'm always still uncomfortable and doubting myself... I don't think that's ever going to stop."

 

Thinking back, would your younger self be proud?

Yes. I got my internship in October 2013 and I always go back to that email. I look at it and try to reconnect to that feeling. I remind myself that I would be so impressed and excited if I was 18-year-old me feeling hopeless in the Australian suburbs. 

I’ve been so honoured to work with people in the early parts of their careers and to be able to follow them, like watching Campbell Addy win the Isabella Blow Award the other day at the BFAs. I was the first person to exhibit his imagery in public at an exhibition I curated, and I remember meeting him back then when he was still finding his feet. Same with Ibrahim Kamara, who styled that shoot for the image that I exhibited. I think a lot more about other people, I get super excited about that. But I do try to remind myself,  I’m still making my way through my career and I’m always still uncomfortable and doubting myself and nervous. I don’t think that’s ever going to stop. I still have pinch-me moments all the time.

 

Now that you’re wearing so many different hats, do you think it’s important for creatives to create their own opportunities and push themselves into doing multiple things? 

I think it’s a natural curiosity for me to move into those spaces. They all feed into each other. I did some curating because I was super interested in working with images and creating new meaning with them. Consulting is the same, and I was lucky with my work at Dazed in that I was a conduit for all these young artists who were dropping into my inbox to introduce their work. Working at Dazed, I got a lot of opportunities to travel on press trips and I took every single opportunity that I could, especially abroad. I’d be like, “I’ve got this amount of free time, so I’m going to this museum, I’m going to this gallery, I’m going to say hi to this artist.” That was me trying to learn art history in real-time, but also making connections. It was all more of a natural thing, rather than I thought it was important at the time. I’m just always curious. 

 

What’s next?

I would love to go back into doing more curation. I haven’t done it for a while, because shows are expensive and I want to do it right. I’m also thinking I’d love to do photo book or art book publishing. I love working closely with an artist, understanding their process and helping them communicate that. 

 

Being someone who’s learned from a range of mentors and is still seeking them, what’s the best bit of advice you’ve got and want to pass on?

The best bit of advice I got was from Olivia Singer, who’s now at i-D. I think the hardest thing is valuing yourself as a young creative, especially as a writer. She said to me, “If you’re not embarrassed by your fee, you’re not asking enough.” I tell people that now, and when I’m quoting someone a fee I sit with it for a sec. I think, “Is that making me uncomfortable? What if I push it up £20 more? £50 more? How does that make me feel?” Sometimes I do things for lower or for free. Like I said, I’m basically being an assistant again, not getting my day rate at all and I wouldn’t expect it. But thanks to Olivia for that. It’s got me a lot of good jobs.

Credits
Hero Image: Alice Black Gallery

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