Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”
Edition 08 — Alexandra Paul Zotov
Communications Director and Graphic Designer
Before my first conversation with Alexandra Paul Zotov, I was already familiar with some of her work, yet not with her work as a graphic designer: media content for cultural giants such as Young Thug, Art Basel, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar.
I had read Artist For Humanity’s blog “Strictly Business: Women of Influence,” an initiative that Alexandra Paul collaborated on with a group of AFH mentors and female teen leaders. The project connected AFH participants to inspiring women through a series of interviews with the likes of Juliette Kayyem, former Assistant Secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Martha Coakley, Attorney General of Massachusetts.
Alexandra Paul describes her involvement as an empowering experience, not only because she spoke to women at the top levels of government, fashion, and art, but also because the girls were entrusted to write and ask the questions to these leaders themselves.
“Ownership of your ideas, ownership of your actions, understanding that your actions have meaning.”
“You’re talking to one of the first women of color leading the security task force. What are you going to ask her? You have to think about these things because your questions, they matter.”
As a big fan of this series, I was impressed and slightly intimidated to be interviewing someone who‘s a recent college graduate, only a few years older than me but already accomplished that of someone older.
Any trace of intimidation vanished early on during our phone call. Alexandra Paul joked lightheartedly and clarified when necessary — she was a pleasure to interview and most of all, an effective communicator. After all, as Communications Manager at Creative Time, a non-profit in New York City dedicated to increasing accessibility to the arts, Alexandra Paul’s role is all about facilitating conversation.
“My job is to maintain all outward-facing communications, through digital, social, and cross-channel platforms. That means I’m a bridge between the public, press, and our artists' vision in the projects that we produce.”
“Most of my job is listening, finding effective tie-ins to translate complex ideologies into cohesive, digestible narratives, ultimately figuring out how to make often abstract artistic concepts accessible to people outside of the often siloed art world.”
Despite her exceptional list of experiences in the art and fashion world, Alexandra Paul’s belief in public art advocacy stems from a more personal anecdote. It was arguably public art spaces, like museums and Artists For Humanity, which sent Alexandra Paul towards the visual design and communications sphere that she occupies now.
“After immigrating here, my parents both worked extremely hard to establish ourselves in America, so my caregivers growing up were predominantly my grandparents. Some of my earliest memories were spent at the MFA, where I would just kind of run wild in the museum because I was too young to read, and my grandparents couldn’t read in English, so wall text meant nothing to us. Because of this, my interactions with art were all based on interpretation — we would play this game of how close we could get to an object without setting the alarm off.”
“We would make up our own stories of what we thought certain pieces meant. Because of those experiences and having the freedom to form my own assumptions and opinions, I grew up really comfortable in museums and in those artistic places.”
Perhaps it was her comfort in art spaces that drew her to Artists For Humanity. While most teens at AFH spent a year in the Painting studio, Alexandra Paul knew right away that she belonged in the Graphic Design studio. She understood that her creative strengths manifested themselves in typography and layout rather than paint onto a canvas.
“For me, graphic design was learning about how to visually communicate with people. You have a goal. You have something you want to say to people and you’re trying to figure out the most effective delivery mechanism which will help people understand.”
Despite taking the unconventional route, Alexandra Paul has always felt that AFH fostered self-advocacy and freedom of choice. Alexandra Paul met her mentor and role model in the Graphic Design studio — Claudia de Piante Vicin, who taught her to think of design as ‘problem-solving,’ a question of how to use visuals in order to purposefully create dialogue. Claudia instilled both the technical skills and personal values that Alexandra Paul still practices at her job today.
“The most important lesson that Claudia always taught me was about respect — taking care of yourself is taking care of your work.”
“Every week, whenever we would get our paychecks, Claudia would walk down the hall, place them all on our desks and thank each one of us individually for our hard work.”
“I liked that, it impacted me immensely, and it is something that I have instituted with my current team.”
Alexandra Paul was finally able to buy her own laptop with her paychecks. Independent and self-directed, Alexandra Paul built on the skills she was learning at Artists For Humanity, and continued to work with Adobe Creative suite, familiarizing herself with the facets of Illustrator, Photoshop and her personal favorite — InDesign.
This software helped bridge the digital divide and opened up a plethora of possibilities that forged the path to her career today.
AFH’s partnership with MassArt and the Boston School of Fashion also sparked Alexandra Paul’s preliminary interest in art and culture. She was able to take classes in Art History and Fashion as a high schooler. An average day for Alexandra Paul might have begun at 7 AM and ended at 9 PM, though she holds no regrets about her busy schedule.
“I would be in school all day, then I would go to AFH and work, then I would have class until 9. This was the first time I had taken an art history class — it was one of the coolest experiences I would ever have. It was so fascinating to have someone talk to you about art for three hours. That’s when I decided that I wanted to study art, to understand how and what leaves a mark on society. These past visualizations of culture were intrinsic to our understanding of what is valuable in a moment, and I knew I wanted to be part of deciding what would represent our time and form our history.”
Alexandra Paul studied art history at Tufts University while continuing to work freelance as an art director and practice studio art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She took a year off from undergrad to work in the fashion industry, producing work for the likes of Kelela, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elite Model Management.
Just last year, Alexandra Paul helped realize “Young Thug as Paintings,” a modish exhibition that debuted at Art Basel last year, which featured the famous rapper’s likeness to Renaissance paintings.
While these projects undoubtedly made large impacts in the art world and had given her a unique list of clients by the time she graduated from college, Alexandra Paul could not stop thinking back to her first exposure to the arts: playing in the MFA with her grandparents.
Noticing the lack of engagement in museums and galleries, Alexandra Paul came to realize that her comfort in art spaces did not reflect the greater public. This solidified her decision to pursue non-profit work with Creative Time, an organization dedicated to commissioning and exhibiting accessible art projects.
“I’m interested in public art because it’s not necessarily targeting people who want to see art or people who are actively going to museums. The majority of the public doesn’t feel comfortable within those institutions and within those spaces.
It’s not just about bringing them in; it’s about how to engage and work with them to make them feel welcome in that space. It’s what I love about working in public spaces — art is free and it’s accessible.”
Alexandra Paul reflects on how Artists For Humanity is able to successfully engage the youth, especially during her own time in the program. She ultimately appreciates all the ways in which AFH granted her the agency to pursue her individual goals: the choice to do graphics, encouragement from mentors, college-level classes, and her favorite initiative, “Strictly Business: Women of Influence.”
“I experienced agency for the first time at Artists For Humanity because the program gave me a platform, the tools, the trust and the power to own something, to make it my own, and to be accountable for it. AFH helped me affirm that art is essential to forming our perception of society, and as visual gatekeepers, we are granted the power to define and depict our actualizations of the world.”
She is really excited to be continuing her lifelong ethos of supporting cultural dialogue in communities. “I only produce projects that I believe in and stand for, and truly believe they can impact our society in a positive direction through conversation.”
Interview conducted and written by Amy Chu for Artists For Humanity.