Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”

Edition 16 — Anna Tsui, Life and Business Coach

Always Growing

“Growth. We were always growing. We were moving. There was always a momentum.”

Anna Tsui was a teen at Artists For Humanity almost 20 years ago, in 2001, yet she can still describe her experiences with clarity and attention to the organization’s dynamic energy. Although the interview’s video quality is limited, Anna Tsui’s smile and personality shine through the pixelated screen.

As an executive coach, Anna helps business owners identify their brand and engage their clients to realize their potential for success. She’s grown Anna Tsui Life and Business Coaching into a successful company, a lesson plan, and a book titled The Way of The Shadow: Use Your Fear as Fuel for a 6-Figure Coaching Business.

Anna started a company that specializes in helping business owners reach their potential.

AFH has changed drastically since Anna painted reclaimed doors with left-over house paint at the old warehouse in the Seaport District. It’s similarly developed and expanded into a larger organization. The 5,000 square-foot EpiCenter now accommodates seven creative art studios and supplies 250+ students with unique job opportunities.

Anna recalls the hectic yet fun experience of working at the AFH of the early aughts.

“There was fine art, and street art, we learned about all these different kinds of art.”

“I would walk in and there would be crazy hip hop playing. The dudes would be balancing on their heads, painting this graffiti art. I was over here painting the universe and some stars. I remember it was intimidating. It was very few girls at the time. Eventually, they had a girl’s group I joined, which was fun because I had a few friends there.”

“We would have these team meetings once a week and they were run in a way that I’ve never seen a meeting run before. Kuami, who had big dreads, would be screaming at people, ‘You guys gotta do art!’ It was just really fun… like ‘Whoa — this is different!’”

Anna with Young Women Incorporated, a studio exclusively for teen girls.

Echoing her current business philosophy about building a meaningful relationship with one’s target audience, Anna is grateful for how much more grounded she felt in the Boston community through AFH.

“I forgot about this — we would go to South Station, set up a booth and sell cards. I would ask, ‘Hey do you want to buy this package of Christmas cards? I designed it.’ And people were like, ‘Yeah. Yeah. Great!’”

Revealing her business acumen once again, she adds, “So we had a great rapport with sales and the public, from creation to sale.”

Anna presenting at an innovation conference. Her clients include Harvard University, Hill Holiday, and PwC, among others.

Anna’s experience selling and advocating for her art was an early introduction to marketing. Forever business savvy, Anna has always been perceptive to audience and brand. Her art-making process from AFH echoes the advice she gives to her international list of clients now.

“I teach people to do this now. When I painted things at AFH, I did it for a specific audience. I asked, ‘Would this be marketable?’ and it was. It was tuning in to an ideal audience and having a little bit of strategy behind making art. Some of the mentors were getting commissioned pieces … We always felt a part of something big.”

Anna notes that the AFH experience offered a unique edge to her resume and boosted her self-confidence.

“At AFH you were a production artist, you were working with people and you sold things. That was a pretty high-end thing on your resume that I think a lot of kids and teenagers don’t have.”

Beyond the unique business model of AFH, Anna gained other invaluable insights — her profound appreciation for the arts being one of them.

Anna carried lessons from AFH to her study abroad year in college. She found she could better understand art and art-making in other contexts thanks to her own experiences making art at AFH.

“When I did a year abroad in Italy, I found that I had an appreciation for art, a deeper one. I was exposed to more people and I could see how art was done differently. AFH helped me feel more confident in connecting with other artistic communities.”

What started as an opportunity to hang out with her older friends led Anna to her first job and a team of unforgettable mentors. Twenty years later, with far more insight and experiences behind her, Anna has advice for her younger self,

“Make deeper connections. I was a teen artist so I thought, who cares about me? But really, if I’m looking back, you’re a young artist that people want to support.”

“I wish I had even connected with the leadership team and talked more about my future, different areas that I could explore in terms of taking it to another level and having more conversations with other people. I wish I had done more networking.”

I’m surprised Anna has any second wishes, seeing how she has honed these skills and become a mentor herself. It can be difficult to engage in networking when you’re swept up in AFH’s momentum.

Anna recalls commuting in the freezing winters, hip-hop blasting in the hot summers, and sharing snacks at the South Station food court with all of her AFH friends.

Though both Anna and AFH have evolved, the unique and exciting vibe of AFH is undeniably recognizable at the heart of these transformations. The same can be said for Anna.

Teenage Anna, at far right, with her friends from AFH.

Quick-witted yet personable, Anna adds this last part with a smile, “But who does networking when they’re 15, right?”

Images of Anna and her book are courtesy of Anna Tsui.

For more information about Anna Tsui Life and Business Coaching, visit Anna’s website below.

Interview conducted and written by Amy Chu.

CREATIVE JOBS FOR CREATIVE TEENS