An Interview with Charlotte Ashamu – Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage

Charlotte Ashamu is a consultant at IPCH leading the development of the Directors’ Forum, a new initiative working with leaders of Africa’s museums and cultural institutions. Charlotte is a global executive with a 20-year career in international and public affairs. She spoke to us about her passion for supporting entrepreneurs, and gave advice to students who are interested in career opportunities in the arts. 

1. Please tell us about yourself and your role at the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH).

For the past 20 years, I have worked in the field of international economic development. My current work is focused on the creative economy specifically leading programs to support entrepreneurs and leaders in the arts and culture sector. I currently serve as a consultant at Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH) where I provide expertise in designing and implementing a global outreach initiative – the Directors Forum. The objective of the Forum is to provide a platform for leaders of cultural institutions on the African continent to connect, learn and exchange knowledge. It is also an opportunity for IPCH and the Yale community to expand its reach and connections to a global network of practitioners in the cultural sector. 

2. Which leaders and institutions in Africa are involved in your work?

In its first phase, the Directors Forum is comprised of 25 leaders of cultural institutions across Africa including museums, archives, libraries and cultural centers. These leaders represent a diverse range of backgrounds from an architect to a journalist to a photographer. All of them are involved in leading a cultural institution and share a common objective: to grow a high-performing organization that serves diverse audiences. 

3. What are some of the highlights/accomplishments in the past one year and what’s next in 2022? 

In its first year, the Directors Forum launched a monthly program series which focused on topics related to the management of cultural institutions. To date, a total of 15 experts from 12 countries from around the world, who are leaders in fields such as conservation, business and philanthropy, have delivered guest talks as part of the Forum’s monthly series. The series has offered an opportunity for participants to expand their learning and develop new professional contacts. In addition, a needs assessment and survey were undertaken in order to identify and understand the most pressing needs facing the cultural institutions involved in the Forum. The Forum is currently developing its next phase of activities including professional development programs, trainings and public engagements in collaboration with the Yale Office of International Affairs (OIA). 

4. What are you most passionate about and what motivates you to do the work that you do?

I am passionate about supporting entrepreneurs who are developing new ways of presenting and preserving art, history and culture. I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria where my interest in arts and culture was sparked by my early interactions with artists and cultural producers. I am excited by the immense opportunity to provide support services, funding and advocacy to enable the arts and culture sector to thrive in Africa and globally. 

5. What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

The most rewarding aspect has been the opportunity to learn continuously. Although I studied economic development and policy, I’ve had the opportunity to pursue studies and work assignments in the fashion industry. I’ve also applied and participated in various fellowship programs outside of work which have enhanced my leadership skills. I’ve spent most of my career living and working internationally. In every country where I’ve lived, I’ve had the opportunity to learn something new and expand my worldview. 

6. What is some advice you want to pass along to students who are interested in career opportunities in the arts and culture sector? 

There are different career paths and entry points for professionals from a job in a foundation providing grants in arts and culture to a role in an international organization such as UNESCO or the US State Department. Recently, more organizations have started to offer paid internships. Take the opportunity to apply for one, learn more about how you work and what you enjoy the most, and begin to cultivate a strong professional network starting with your colleagues. Most importantly, I’ve learnt not to limit oneself to a particular field or type of organization.