Apr 4, 2022

A Year in Review: The Creative Leadership of Chad Eric Smith

by: Ilse García Romero

What do a filmmaker and a communications professional have in common? They develop impactful narratives to convey a message that moves their audience. In an impressive display of creativity, Director of Communications and Brand Management Chad Eric Smith has taken on a role that combines his two worlds.

With over 15 years of experience as a versatile character actor, Smith has made a name for himself as a consummate performer, both on stage and on the big screen. In 2010, while living in western Pennsylvania, he received awards for his stage performances as Walter Lee Younger in the musical Raisin and Wilson Pickett in the play I Gotcha! The Story of Joe Tex and the Soul Clan. As a film actor, he is known for his chameleonic ability to transform himself for any role he embodies.  Whether playing a troubled young physicist in the sci-fi drama Fatherless, a vampire with an irrational fear of blood in the comedy Dark Therapy, a mysterious Muslim drifter in the horror feature film The Suffering, a justice-impacted man suffering from alcoholism in the series Counselor, or a Black nationalist and atheist in the political drama Four Points, Smith has proven he can play anyone and has a desire to be involved in thought-provoking projects.

Chad Eric Smith in Fatherless (2021), Dark Therapy (2014), The Suffering (2016), Counselor (2015), and Four Points (2018).

In 2017, he founded MisterDuke Productions to provide professional consultation to other creators, empower himself as a content producer, and ensure ownership stake in the projects he devotes so much time and passion. That same year, he wrote, produced, and directed the short psychological sci-fi drama Rumination, about a heartbroken man who travels into the past for a second chance at a failed relationship. The film was screened at over 30 film festivals nationwide and won over 20 awards.

Aside from his passion for the arts, Smith has devoted much of his time to higher education advocacy, primary prevention of men’s violence against women, and restorative justice, which led him to work at nonprofits. He worked as an admissions counselor at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, where he currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association. For five years, he was a high school advisor at several DC public high schools through the nonprofit District of Columbia College Access Program.

During his previous work as a full-time consultant for Men Can Stop Rape, he produced multimedia content for the organization’s social media platforms. It was at this point that Smith began to experiment with putting his two passions together and creating meaningful marketing campaigns for a cause.

Chad Eric Smith talks to young men about life choices, respect and consent at a Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Youth Symposium in 2017. Photo by Michael Sykes II.

But how did a critically acclaimed actor and filmmaker find himself managing the Communications department of the nation’s largest public art program? In recognition of his first anniversary as Mural Arts’ Director of Communications and Brand Management, we reflect on Smith’s work experience and his contributions to the Mural Arts brand. I sat down with him to learn more about his career.

uCity Square Dedication © 2021 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / 3624 & 3701 Market Street. Photo by Steve Weinik.

What initially drew you to Mural Arts Philadelphia? 

I joined Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice department in January 2020, serving in several roles. I was the department’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Manager, in which I was responsible for ensuring MAP’s apprenticeship program, The Guild, adhered to the expectations set forth by the TANF federal assistance program. I also held dual roles of Assistant Guild Coordinator and Interim Administrative Support. I created several in-house videos for the department, from producing and lending my voice to a Guild Application Promo, to creating a featurette on MAP’s Independence Fellow, to crafting a micro‐documentary highlighting the Guild’s “Resilience in a Pandemic.” My proudest contribution to the Restorative Justice department was leading the video component of the “Emerge” campaign, in which I directed, shot, and edited eight public service announcements focused on the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism in America.

So by the time the opportunity for the role of Director of Communications and Brand Management presented itself, I had years of experience as a creative storyteller, producing attention-grabbing content and strategic marketing campaigns of four-figure value—both commercially and within the nonprofit sector, and had worked within communities with an activist spirit around issues that aligned with Mural Arts’ core values.

Mural Arts is prestigious and world-renowned, so I have a lot of pride in serving on the organization’s behalf. The role combines my passion for storytelling, social justice, and my verbal, written, and visual communication skills.

- Chad Eric Smith

Chad Eric Smith directing an episode of the SAG comedy series, UpRoaR, produced by Commodore Independent Filmworks, in association with SafeHouse FilmDC and Terrell Entertainment.

What does it mean to you to be Mural Arts' first-ever man and person of color to serve as Director of Communications and Brand Management?  

It is a genuine honor. I not only bring creativity, innovation, and organization but bring the even-temperament, good judgment, flexibility, and grit required for a role that is very demanding and high-pressure.

I also bring a fresh perspective to the role because of my non-traditional background. Instead of studying communications during undergrad like many of my predecessors, I studied acting and acquired a psychology degree, as I was interested in storytelling and human behavior. Beyond the tools we use to communicate, which are ever-changing, communications as an industry ultimately comes down to shaping narratives, fostering relationships, and understanding what resonates with people and why.

When I was interviewed for the Director of Communications and Brand Management position, I shared with the hiring committee at the time that I was fully aware that my hire would align with the organization’s publicized value of embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion. I said I would bring a new, different kind of intrinsic value and emotional intelligence—and I have. I worked at organizations where the communications team did not reflect the diversity of the Black and Brown communities they were shaping narratives about. It was something that bothered me. If Black lives matter, so, too, do Black voices. I am pleased to bring my perspective into the room, virtually or otherwise, as we shape new narratives on behalf of the largest public art organization in the nation. And now, as a result of a careful candidate selection process and commitment to better represent the communities we work with, Mural Arts has the most diverse communications department in the organization’s history under my leadership.

Mural Arts' Communications Team.

You have been appointed co-chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee at Mural Arts. Why are DEI initiatives important to you?  

I firmly believe that diverse and inclusive workplaces deepen the trust and commitment of their employees. Research has shown many benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace, from higher revenue growth to greater readiness to innovate, to increased ability to recruit a diverse talent pool. As the first man and person of color to serve as Director of Communications and Brand Management, I think it is essential to be a positive role model. Part of the reason, historically speaking, that people who look like me are not in senior or executive positions in predominantly White organizations is because those who are in positions of power likely have not been in close proximity to creative, innovative, and competent leaders of color.  Breaking the barrier of that paradigm involves a great deal of intentionality.  

According to a Columbia Magazine article entitled, “A Better Way to Fight Workplace Racial Bias,” which details the most extensive sociological study of its kind focused on White Americans’ attitudes toward their Black peers, “It is not enough, the researchers say, for companies to simply facilitate conversations among their employees about unconscious racial biases. Rather, companies need to ensure that White workers have regular and sustained interaction with Black colleagues.” I am happy that my presence moves the needle on that front. 

What vision do you have for the future of Mural Arts' branding and communications?  

Mural Arts does so much more than meets the eye. My vision is for the general public to understand that fact better. Given that our brand, not unlike any other, is essentially the expectation of an intangible value, the question becomes how do we shift perspectives and ensure that our work is imbued with significant meaning and emotional connection. By being community-oriented, consistent with our messaging, and delivering it to our audiences in creative and innovative ways, I believe we can strengthen that emotional connection. It is also important that we uplift and amplify the work of internal stakeholders (i.e. Mural Arts’ staff). When our audiences can connect diverse faces to the fantastic work we do, they become more endeared to our mission, values, and brand.

Chad Eric Smith directing a music video.

What is your leadership style, and how did you develop it?  

I believe my leadership style is both participative and transformational. It is important to involve my team members in the decision-making process in order to have an engaged and motivated staff.  I aim to inspire team members to feel empowered without micromanaging them and allow their creative and innovative impulses to shine. I am a native of Washington, DC, a political town through and through, so I think I developed my leadership style by having a front-row seat to leaders on the local and national level. My parents like to tell a story that I was working a room of adults like a politician at age six – introducing myself, asking how they were doing, and engaging in follow-up questions before moving on to the next person.

Who are your mentors or role models that have inspired you throughout your career?  

My parents are still my most influential mentors and advisors. They encourage me daily and provide invaluable feedback on everything, from my grandest ideas to the efficacy of important email correspondences. Public figures who inspire me are President Obama, actors Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Jeffrey Wright, Jamie Foxx, rapper/songwriter and media proprietor Jay Z, and the late musical pioneers Prince and J Dilla, to name a few. 

Chad Eric Smith with Jamie Foxx. Photo courtesy of Brian Fagin/WPGC.

Chad Eric Smith with Philly Freeway at the mural dedication for Play for Change by artist King Saladeen and curated by SetFree Richardson.

What is your proudest career accomplishment to date? 

In 2021, I authored a new slogan (Beautify. Inspire. Empower.) and brand statement to help demystify Mural Arts’ “Art Ignites Change” tagline. The brand statement is, “Mural Arts Philadelphia exists to provide transformative experiences, progressive discourse, and economic stimulus to the City of Philadelphia through participatory public art that beautifies, advocacy that inspires, and educational programming and employment opportunities that empower.” This has helped us better organize the narratives in our print and digital materials and has helped me succinctly talk about all that we do during radio and television interviews.

Mural Arts' new slogan, "Beautify. Inspire. Empower."

Reporter Hank Flynn interviews Chad Eric Smith on FOX 29 about the artwork promoting Summer of Soul, a 2021 documentary film directed by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.

When you're not developing new marketing ideas for Mural Arts and breaking down barriers, what are you usually doing?  

I enjoy spending time with my fiancée, traveling, eating good food, reading books about U.S. political history, watching movies, and playing the piano in my spare time.

Chad Eric Smith representing Mural Arts at a Philadelphia 76ers game as part of their Black History Month Community Spotlight, presented by PECO.

Last updated: Feb 26, 2023

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