Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”

Edition 29— Ayana Mack, Graphic Designer, and Artist

“You can make your entire life full of art.”

Ayana Mack arrives at the EpiCenter in striking red-framed glasses and a sleek professional get-up

When I emailed Ayana Mack to schedule an alumni interview, her response was prompt; I got a reply the next day — Ayana would be free only five times that month.

We agreed on a far-out day, although I was skeptical we’d both remember to save the date. On the morning of her interview, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Ayana asking about the parking situation.

Right on time, Ayana arrives at the EpiCenter in striking red-framed glasses and a sleek professional get-up. Later, she tells me this is just how she dresses for work, preferring bright colors and head wraps.

As all the interviews begin, I ask her to share what she’s up to now.

The short answer is Ayana works as the senior graphic designer at the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. She manages marketing and reviews all sorts of print material such as posters, pull-ups, booklets, and menus for galas and fundraisers.

The longer answer is Ayana pursues multiple other projects on top of her busy full-time job. Ayana’s role as a designer is heavily involved in each project’s purpose of supporting local communities, which proves once again that graphic design is more than just logos. Ayana has designed for Boston Public Schools, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, and for two consecutive years, the Boston Art and Music Soul Festival.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s campaign T-shirt and tote, examples of Ayana’s product design.

Ayana’s collection of products for Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s 2018 campaign included a T-shirt, a tote bag, an interactive sticker, and multiple postcards. In an interview with the Boston Voyager, it’s clear that Ayana designs for people and causes she believes in,

“Ayanna Pressley is a huge inspiration. A woman who has reactivated my idea of politics and is authentically fighting against a system that is not made for us. I am thankful for women like this, they set powerful examples for generations to come.”

When we met, Ayana had just finished up her second year as the in-house designer for the Boston Arts and Music Soul Festival, a hectic six-month-long endeavor with design edits all the way up until the opening date. Her designs appeared on all forms of marketing material, festival design, and merchandise.

Ayana was in charge of event branding for the Boston Art & Music Soul Festival.

“There was just a chunk of time that was event after event after event. One year I did 21 events, not including my freelance work, not including my art, my life.”

She remembers her post-college job in retail when she worked overnight shifts until 6 AM. Ayana admits she may be tired but at least it’s a “good type of tired.”

Ayana directed design for social media headers, stage banners, and even billboards. (Photo: American Repertory Theater)

As Ayana goes on to tell me about completing a personal project for artist funding opportunities and finishing a course on user experience, I’m impressed she fit this interview in her schedule at all. During the leisure time she does have, Ayana still makes art. Ayana loved to spend time in the Painting Studio at AFH.

Ayana has collaborated with artists and businesses as far as Martha’s Vineyard, Washington, D.C., Virginia.

“I still paint. I still make artwork. I still sell artwork. I display it in different shows around the city and the community. Over the last five years, once I left AFH and college, I worked in retail for a few years, which was awful. I didn’t have time to make anything or time to sleep. Once I got into this job as a full-time designer, I finally got my evenings and my weekends back. That’s when I started making artwork.”

“Over the last five years or more, I’ve been to events in and out of state. Virginia, Maryland, DC- I’ve sent my work to other places. My work is in different states right now, different stores.”

While Ayana’s paintings have traveled to galleries all over the country, her proudest memories at AFH are comparatively small but momentous. She’ll never forget the elation of selling her first artwork. She tells me how each painting presented a different challenge and feeling of accomplishment as a painter, specifically one fiery self-portrait.

Ayana Mack, “Self-Portrait.” Her favorite project from AFH.

“When I first got here, this was when I was still developing my skills as an artist, I used to paint slow, I was unsure. I remember doing this really awesome self-portrait in our studio. I painted it in two weeks and I felt so good, ‘I’m killing it, I got this—this is great!’ I still have the painting. It’s over 10 years old.”

Amidst all these exciting opportunities and ventures in Ayana’s life, the time has flown by unnoticed. She takes this chance to reflect on being at AFH over a decade ago, pointing at the ceiling above the conference table we’re sitting at and describing the swings which used to hang here. Ayana has been back to the EpiCenter a few times, she attended AFH’s Annual Greatest Party on Earth and the opening for the EpiCenter expansion. She’s astounded at how much she has changed and what aspects of AFH have remained exactly the same.

Ayana painted as a teenager in the AFH Painting Studio and still loves to paint today.

“Coming back here was a full-circle moment for me because I saw Jason and Rob with other teen artists. They’re doing the same thing they did with us, didn’t skip a beat. Same energy, the same excitement, it was really, really beautiful to see. It showed they’re continuing this community, this involvement with youth, and the importance behind it. I brought a friend with me and I was having all these epiphanies. I was telling her, ‘You don’t understand. I used to be in this studio and now I’m a full-grown adult!”

I began Ayana’s story with the moment I met her because it was too difficult to pick just one anecdote signifying the start of her art career. Did it start when she built a giant gingerbread house with her grandmother to apply to Boston Arts Academy? Or when she followed her mother’s advice to study graphic design instead of fashion? Or when she sold her first painting at AFH? No matter the specific moment in which it all began, Ayana can’t imagine the difference AFH has made to supplement her creative path.

Ayana’s work explores themes of transformation, leadership, and strength.

“Would my life have been different? Oh my gosh yes, so different. I talked to so many people about this — I was lucky enough and blessed enough to have access to art from eighth grade. My grandmother was an artist who helped me with my portfolio, then I moved into high school art. And on top of that, I got to come here after school. Then I moved to college, surrounded by art. Spent a few years outside of it and now I’m back at it.”

Ayana acknowledges not everyone is so fortunate to have support within their family and exposure to the arts through their school, making AFH even more necessary as a space to engage kids. For many teenagers, AFH does act as the beginning — the introduction to a life full of art.

“I’m an example. Your life literally gets funneled into art. You can make your entire life full of art. It wasn’t like I came from a family who said, ‘You need to be a mathematician.’ I come from a family who encouraged art.”

“Imagine the youth who didn’t have a family who encouraged art and they stumbled into a space like this. They’re getting this encouragement which they’re not getting from their families. They’re seeing the other side, which is a really beautiful thing and very important in developing your creative side.”

When asked about AFH’s 30 year anniversary this year, Ayana said, “It’s kind of amazing! Imagine how many kids have gone through this program through the last 30 years… it’s wild to me!” Ayana is blown away by the nonprofit’s impact and hopes that in the next 30 years AFH will continue to expand the program in new and creative ways. “[AFH] can continue to grow as a creative hub for teens!” she said excitedly.

All images courtesy of Ayana Mack unless otherwise credited.

Ayana Mack is a Boston-based graphic designer and visual artist. For more information about her work, visit her website below.

Written by Amy Chu.