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ALISON KNOWLTON

MASON

Connector. Designer. Strategist.

The tl;dr version
I’m a multi-passionate creator who is both artistic AND organized. I have more than 15 years of experience as a designer, communicator and project manager at non-profits. Helping you and/or your organization fulfill its mission is MY mission. I can’t wait to work with you.

I’m also…
Unapologetically black. A believer with evolving theology. A giddy new wife. A forever daughter and sister. An auntie, real & imagined. Reluctant Enneagram 3. Your favorite “friendtor”.

HERE’S THE WHOLE STORY

I’m one of those people who is creative and artistic AND super organized and detail oriented. So, straight out of college, I taught elementary school cause I heard about Teach For America (TFA) and loved the idea of supporting historically disadvantaged kids and communities. But being a teacher wasn’t really for me…Really, being an educator felt too important to do just as a job without the passion for the work so I decided to see how I could help the mission in ways that aligned better to my skills and interests. When I finished teaching, I ran off to grad school at Savannah College of Art and Design shortly after they opened an Atlanta campus. Studying Graphic Design full time was a dream. I was the #1 design school NERD about studying and working on my projects. I was also nominated for and held the role of President of our campus’ chapter of the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Artists).

(Life Side Note: It was there that I had my first black woman as a teacher — the FIRST opportunity I’d had to truly see myself reflected in an educator. It changed everything.)

While finishing grad school, I was able to get a job as a graphic designer for a small theatre company which was a win because live theatre is another love of mine. At the same time, I co-led the drama ministry at the mega church I attended. It gave me space to excel in all my strengths — I managed communication, making sure everyone knew what they needed to to thrive; I stage managed, managing the MANY pieces of execution that it took to get a production from idea to stage; I did all the graphic design, making sure that our church productions had great marketing and were as professional as professional theatres; I led strategy and planning, making sure that the ministry would grow, operate at a high level and support the goals of the church. 

ALSO, while in grad school, I started developing the idea of working for myself as a graphic designer. That’s when I came up with the name for my business. A professor told me the name of her business was based off the street she lived on and it gave me an idea for my company’s name, “Lilacs on York”. (I grew up on York Street and loved the two lilac bushes that we had in the backyard.) At that point, I said to myself, “I’ll go out on my own later in life. If I don’t do it before, I’ll do it the year I turn 40.” 

When I finished grad school, I still had my volunteer work at the church which I LOVED, but the work at the theatre part time and not enough to sustain my life. So, since I’d be working with Teach For America’s summer training, referred to as “Institute”, many summers throughout this time (learning SO MUCH about working in fast-paced, high stakes environments, project and task managing LOTS of important work in a short time, building and maintaining relationships in a high stress environment), I turned to them to find something full time. I ended up working at TFA full-time from the fall of 2010-the spring of 2019. All those things I learned while working at institute?? Double and quadruple that. Add to it personal growth x 1,000,000. I deepened my racial consciousness, my empathy, my ability to have hard conversations, my management skills, my love of mentoring, my ability to facilitate and lead meeting spaces, my ability to create engaging and effective trainings — in general, my strategic thinking grew LEAPS & BOUNDS.

Because of all of this amazing learning, graphic design wasn’t enough for me anymore. I still used it – EVERY DAY. I was always called on to make everything prettier, cleaner, easier to engage with. AND I still did it on the side. My confidence grew with each side project but even as that happened, because of my full time work, I didn’t always have the brain space to do the best design work that I could. So, I batted around the idea of leaving to work for myself but graphic design was the only thing I felt my business could focus on and that wasn’t enough, although I didn’t know why. Besides, I LOVED my different roles at TFA so I didn’t want to leave the amazing ppl that I worked with, all the learning and the great perks of the organization.

In 2016, I moved from Atlanta to Miami to run operations for TFA’s inaugural Miami summer training institute. It was a big job and after working under other Directors of Ops at institutes, I’d always wanted to try it for myself to see if I could REALLY be 100% in charge of the ops of a whole institute. And I did it. The years were lots of hard work and lots of trial and error but we posted some of the highest satisfaction rates in the entire country. I know it was partly because of all of the skills that I’d accumulated since my first institute in 2006. When I felt the need to move on from that work, I found a charter school that was looking for an operations director. Unfortunately, this organization was a terrible fit for me. One of my co-workers there said it well… “We were all UNDERUTILIZED and OVERWHELMED.” Too many low impact tasks on our to do lists to get to the REAL work that could make a difference. I started looking for other jobs after only about 6 months. When the pandemic hit in March, I was still determined to leave but didn’t know what work I’d be able to find with the economy as it is. I talked myself into staying another year — toughing it out and trying to rewrite a hard year that felt like it was filled with more error than trial.

Then on May 22, 2020, I had a 5 minute call with my manager. He said, “I want to thank you for your work this year. Your contract will not be renewed for next year. Your last day will be June 5.” You wanna talk about a GUT PUNCH?? I mean, ultimately, I wasn’t surprised. But in the middle of a pandemic?? I spent the rest of that day with tears running down my face searching for jobs but the whole time, I was hearing God tell me, “It’s time.” 

 (Life side note: Did I mention that I turned 40 almost exactly one month before that call??)

Fast forward to today. I spent the two weeks of my two week notice doing research within my network — hearing from women who have done this and are DOING this. I joined Nicole Walters’ 1K1Day cohort and was able to clarify my role… my work… my angle on having an impact in the world. And now… months later, here we are.

Lilacs on York Creative Studios exists to support equity focused individuals and organizations in telling compelling stories, finding and engaging human connections and generally being their best. We do this through applying highly personalized creative strategy to the complex problems that you’re facing. We support with branding & design, visual & written storytelling, and business, organization system & management coaching.

I’m Alison K Mason–the Chief Creative Strategist at Lilacs on York. When you work with me, you can expect an authentic, ‘by your side through it all’ partner because working with you to fulfill your mission is MY MISSION. I cater my work to equity focused individuals and organizations because it gives me the opportunity to draw the right people into the critical work that the world needs: beauty, access, and justice. I work with you to craft beautiful, unique and distinctly personal solutions… solutions that will move you forward.

Hear from others who have worked with me. Then see for yourself!