Philanthropic Faces: Asali DeVan Ecclesiastes
Photographed by Eric Waters

Education: Bachelor of Science in secondary education and English literature, minored
in biology and African-Diaspora studies, Vanderbilt University
Age: 47

When Asali DeVan Ecclesiastes became chief equity officer at Ashé Cultural Arts Center two years ago, she was bringing a wealth of creative talent and experience to this esteemed establishment. 

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“Ashé is a very beloved and relied upon institution in the community, and I wanted to make sure that I could still show up in the way they needed me to,” said Ecclesiastes.

It was a natural fit for this native New Orleanian — Ecclesiastes is a graduate of McMain Magnet High School — who looks at written and spoken word and her community as sources of inspiration and a platform for societal change. 

Before leading Ashé, her previous positions include director of strategic neighborhood development for New Orleans Business Alliance, Claiborne Program manager for the City of New Orleans’ Mayor’s Office, Congo Square coordinator for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, as well as other roles for Essence Music Festival, Tremé 200 Festival, New Orleans Juneteenth Festival, Tremé/7th Ward Arts & Culture Festival and the Akoben Words-In-Action Festival. 

She was the author of two TED talks and chosen by JPMorgan Chase as one of the 300 most influential citizens for the New Orleans’ Tricentennial and 2019 Tulane University Mellon Fellow, and also received President Barack Obama 2012 Drum Major for Service Award, New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council 2013 Queen’s Scribe Award and Essence Magazine 2018 Excellence in Service Award. 

Ecclesiastes has toured nationally with the critically acclaimed, Swimming Upstream, a play that she co-wrote that explored life in New Orleans post-Katrina flood and produced by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. Ecclesiastes participated a virtual version for 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and is considering a revival over the next few years.  

For Juneteenth, Ashé Cultural Arts Center is participating in the National Civil Rights Conference, June 20 to 21 in Baton Rouge. Ashé will also be involved with other events surrounding Juneteenth, which is June 19. Details have not been finalized as of press time, but for updates check Ashé’s website, ashenola.org.

Ashé Cultural Arts Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 504-569-9070, ashenola.org.

How many years have you been with this organization?  Two years, both in the position and as an employee, but 25 years as a constituent.

Tell us what your organization does. Ashé Cultural Art Center’s innovative programming is designed to utilize culture in fostering human development and civic engagement. We maintain 10,000 square feet of gallery space and 20,000 square feet of performance space to create and preserve opportunities for the curation, exhibition and commission of fine, folk and fine-folk art. Producing over 350 music, theater, dance, spoken word, drum circles and multi-disciplinary events a year, Ashé believes in art as a paradigm-shifting call to action. As ecosystem builders, we deliver programming and direct services that support, leverage and celebrate the people, places and philosophies of the African Diaspora.

What has been the biggest — or most important  — accomplishment (s) that have happened while you have been at the organization?  The biggest accomplishment that my team and I have created during my brief and whirlwind time at Ashé Cultural Arts Center is institutional stabilization and growth while significantly expanding services to our stakeholders during the triple pandemic of health, economic and social justice crises.

What has been the most memorable moment (s) at the organization?  We are blessed to have truly memorable moments on a regular basis, but one that stands out as extraordinary was last November when were able to travel as a team to Puerto Rico, connect with the communities there and share cultural, advocacy and service activities together. 

Is there a book, movie and/or moment (s) that changed your life?  The book Two Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah, a composition of perfectly poetic prose, full of historical rigor and insight, expanded my idea of myself in a global context.

What are you reading now? Toni Morrison’s The Source of Self-Regard and Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents — both of which I’ve been dissecting for a year, phew!

What is your perfect night out in New Orleans?  An early performance at Ashé or the Jazz Market, followed by dinner at Café Sbisa, Compère Lapin, Pêche or Vyonne’s … then dance it off at Kermit’s or Bertha’s till the wee hours and breakfast at Ruby Slipper or Stanley’s.

What is your idea of New Orleans bliss?  Wake up early Sunday morning and play something I grew up on — Rebirth, PNC, Germaine Bazzle, Professor Longhair — loud while I clean up … go to the Buttermilk Drop and bring home drops and glazeds for the fam, while I get my grits, eggs and hot sausage … after breakfast, make a good sturdy cocktail and walk on out to the second-line … the rest is bliss in the making!

Secret ambition?  To be a double agent … and I mean the jumping off of buildings type … if my book writing doesn’t work out, lol!