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Rising Stars: Meet Alisha Andrews of the Denver Art Museum

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alisha Andrews.

Thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
As a Colorado Native, I grew up the youngest of four siblings in a lower socio-economic neighborhood in South-Eastern Colorado Springs. A vital part of my story started there, and it sparked the love that I have for my community. My parents always encouraged me to use whatever talent I had to make positive changes in my community. Because of their foundation, I began volunteering at the local YMCA in my neighborhood at the age of ten. I became an advisor on their teen council at 14, assisting in making and organizational change that would make the YMCA more inviting for those in my age group. Simultaneously, I was an athlete. The strict grade requirements helped me excel in my academics and fostered my ability to perform under pressure and in crisis. When I started college, I got into politics. I began volunteering for campaigns by canvassing door-to-door and speaking with people within the community to understand what they needed and how our public policy can help solve community ills. While doing this work, I fostered community relationships and learned how to take larger topics and simplify them to create sustainable solutions that could serve a broad amount of people.
After graduating from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, I moved back to Colorado Springs to become active in my community. While working with patients experiencing opioid addiction, I realized that the systems in place played a major role in how each of these people received care and that I could not solve it by doing the work I was doing. Shortly after this, I moved from Colorado Springs to Denver and pursued working in policy. I began by serving in AmeriCorps as a Veteran Leader Corps member providing direct service to veterans transitioning out of the military and into higher education to support educational equity. After completing my term, I went on to work in congress, serving the state of Colorado and making broader, sweeping changes for the country. I returned to working with the opioid crisis during the 2018 session to assist with passing the first iteration of bills that provided funding for research and treatment plans. I returned to educational equity work and began focusing on racial inequity in the workplace, leading initiatives for my organization at the time to create systems that support diversifying staff and prepared the organization for healing justice practices.

Can you talk to us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned? Would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
This sparked my interest in politics, and it fueled my desire to help fix the broken systems that I knew did not have to be this way. While in college, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This particular obstacle required me to juggle schoolwork with caretaking, which almost ended with me repeating my senior year. My father ultimately passed away when I was 24 and gave me the strength and inspiration to move to follow my own dreams. Another major obstacle for me, especially while working in the policy world, was that many of the doors that opened for me, I had to build first, as I was not well connected, nor did I have a well off family to support me in my the pursuit of changing the world as we currently experience it. I was rejected many times and failed quite a bit before finding the right lane that would allow me to do meaningful and important work while maintaining my standard of integrity.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
My work now focuses on advancing Racial Equity at the Denver Art Museum by creating policies, challenging systems, providing education, and building community to support the institution in its transition to an anti-racist organization. Another focus of my role is to support an environment of psychological safety within the museum for the staff and volunteers. These two pieces of my role work hand-in-hand to provide employees and volunteers with a workplace that can provide what they need in order to thrive. I am very proud of the work we have been able to accomplish internally over the past year and even more proud that I can contribute to making a museum that I feel welcomes my community because of the internal work that we are doing and will continue to do. The single trait that sets me apart from others is my ability to take large ideas and theories, often found in racial equity work, and operationalize them. Many organizations struggle with how to implement this work in meaningful and impactful ways after participating in trainings. My capabilities provide that support to our organization.

Any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general?
My advice for finding a mentor is to look in very unconventional spaces. I have gotten mentored by people who have no idea they mentored me through reading and social media. In person, mentors are really important, and I have had quite a few of those, simply through asking those people to mentor me, taking their advice, sharing with them that I took it, and then asking permission to have access to more of their knowledge. It is essential that you do not create a rigid relationship with how or what a mentor can be; however, sometimes, it may be a peer, a stranger, or an author. You can be mentored by whoever you are inspired by (even children, don’t count them out).

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Image Credits
Photographer: Eric Stephenson, Denver Art Museum

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