“I get to be a part of broadening perspectives and enhancing experiences in safe, new, innovative and enjoyable ways.”

Toronto is a world leader in business, tech, entertainment and culture – naturally, our city’s creative minds are a force. What we don’t often talk about is the fact that a lot of the people behind the city’s most influential businesses and brands are also cannabis users. Want to talk about doing away with the stigma around pot? The folks we profile in our High-Functioning Torontonians series embody the reason it’s just time to.

Meet Ashley McKenzie-Barnes, a curator and experience maker who has channeled her skills into the creation of Toronto culture hot spots Nuit Blanche, Harbourfront Centre, and lately, byMinistry – an experiential cannabis lifestyle brand set to open Toronto’s first high-end cannabis lounge in 2020. She shares why she’s passionate about integrating cannabis into mainstream art and culture, and why Toronto is so ready for byMinistry.

Weedbox: What’s your current favourite strain?

Ashley: I don’t have a favourite strain, though I am super selective with what I can smoke. CBD is my main choice, and sativa is the only other option for me, as it can relax me in the same way as CBD.

Weedbox: What is your cannabis ritual?

Ashley: It’s more of a case by case basis. I mostly use CBD and sometimes a sativa strain to relax. I’m not a social smoker, or a regular smoker. I can have a super long week of meetings, computer time, and socializing and just need to come home, lay out on the couch, have some CBD and do nothing. I don’t use it to socialize or to do anything that requires energy as it really does create a calming headspace for me. It’s especially useful as a sleep-aid when I have a lot on the go and want to unplug before bed. I have also used it as reliever for physical pain.

Images via Kayla Rocca

Weedbox: What do you love most about Toronto?

Ashley: I love the cultural diversity we have here. There’s something for everyone and it’s easy to find, from one of the largest free public art fairs in North America (Nuit Blanche) to underground music events, artisan markets, private art and curator forums, entrepreneur events and tech and design conferences – all within in a matter of months from each other.

We have a lot of talent that makes up the cultural fabric of this city and we offer many opportunities, mentorship resources, hubs, and spaces to incubate talent for emerging creatives. This is why Toronto will be the perfect flagship location for byMinistry, a cannabis-forward company dedicated to creating curated, elevated experiences with innovative, immersive and engaging arts and culture.

Weedbox: What helped you navigate Toronto’s art scene in your early days?

Ashley: Getting out and being connected to the right people. As I mentioned, the city offers many resources for emerging creatives to harness their skills, network, receive mentorship and be inspired by leaders within their craft.

Right out of college I quickly got paired with FLOW 93.5 FM, and eventually started working with smaller agencies and names like Director X and Trey Anthony, who helped pave my way as a young creative. I also started curating my own art shows / exhibits, in lounges and restaurants, for as little as 100 people, and that soon got me aligned with grass-roots organizations like Manifesto Festival to curate larger shows for an audience of thousands.

Weedbox: What advice would you have for other budding curators with unique and creative ideas they want to realize?

Ashley: Get out, network, research and be patient. You need to know what the different practices are for curators, whether that’s being in an art or educational institution, gallery, bank, in-house creative agency or for a specific brand—they are all very different fields.

Research what type of work and projects you want to do, and what audience you want to cater your ideas to. If you’re unsure, frequent gallery openings, public fairs, creative talks, experiential installations, and art and cultural events to see where and how your vision fits in. Start aligning yourself with artists / creatives and / or their management you want to work with, as you will need to build relationships and start understanding their process and work while also having a great selection of artists to choose from when the opportunity arises.

Also, learn about best-practices within your own work. Do you know about artwork handling, international talent processes, contract making, exhibition strategy and execution, installation of works and presentation? If not, take a course, internship or get a mentor who can teach you the logistics around curating.

Lastly, be patient and dedicated to your practice. Don’t expect overnight success, even though the word ‘curator’ is used regularly these days, a solid and practicing curator usually puts in years of experience to get to where they are now.

Weedbox: What excites you most about legalization and the integration of cannabis into mainstream art and culture?

Ashley: The opportunity to recreate what ‘normal’ is. This is our mission at byMinistry. I get to be a part of broadening perspectives and enhancing experiences in safe, new, innovative and enjoyable ways. We are opening up new methods of storytelling and creative visioning and execution by integrating arts, design and culture with cannabis-centric experiences, products and partners. The space will look very different as we start to explore and accept new ways of ‘consuming’ art and culture.

Weedbox: Who else in the cannabis industry inspires you?

Ashley: Any brands who are using this time to support and create real experiences for the consumer or potential consumers, and are not just product focused. I am also especially inspired by the work of initiatives like Cannabis Amnesty whose commitment is to achieving justice and equality for targeted people with simple possession records before cannabis was decriminalized. Cannabis Amnesty’s work is probably some of the most important and relevant work in the cannabis industry right now.

Get in touch with Ashley at mckenziebarnes.com, on Instagram, or Twitter.