Ariana Austin – Founder of French Thomas Creative and Creator of Art All Night

We met Ariana Austin after work one warm Washington, D.C. evening last spring. The conversation was meant to last just half an hour, but we ended up talking for over two. So when we say that Ariana is generous with her time, spirit, and energy, we have the proof to back it up. We talked about everything from why she decided to study English Lit in college, to how she manages her time as an entrepreneur and team leader. As the Founder of Art All Night, she knows how to tackle projects from start to finish and bring entire communities together. By carrying over her skills and talents from all parts of life, we are inspired by Ariana’s courage to dive right into her passions and turn them into a fruitful career.

Name: Ariana Austin
Education: B.A. English Literature, Fisk University and M.Ed, Arts in Education, Harvard University
Location: New York City
Follow: Twitter / French Thomas

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Ariana Austin: Being curious; for experiences, for people, traveling to different places, studying what you want. Honoring that openness while relatively free of responsibility.

CJ: You majored in English Literature at Fisk University. How did you determine what to study?

AA: I have loved to read and write since childhood – I just followed my passion.

CJ: You spent some time at the University of Oxford. What were you studying and how was that experience?

AA: I studied “postcolonial” literature — a contentious term for literature from formerly colonized nations. It was very intense — the most rigorous academic experience I’ve had but a first-read of some of my now favorite novels, and a nuanced look at the most difficult of topics: who has power and who does not.

CJ: What was your first job out of college?

AA: When I graduated from college, I had a press internship on the hill, worked part-time for the Oxford Study Abroad Program (that I went to as a student), and in a boutique.

CJ: You founded Art All Night. Please tell us more about the organization and what your roles as Founder and Creative Director entail.

AA: Art All Night is a nighttime arts and culture festival. I founded the festival in 2010 after having lived in Paris and experiencing the original “nuit blanche.” My work involves sketching out the big picture for the night, then securing venues (many are vacant or non-traditional art spaces), cultural partners to curate them, managing the overall artist call, and working with galleries and more established spaces to open their doors late.

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CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

AA: Depending on what two or three projects I’m working on every few months is different. These days my schedule is to work from my apartment in Brooklyn. I’m working on two projects – Draw NYC – a wonderful initiative designed to get New Yorkers drawing in public space and Art All Night. Typically: I try to keep to a regular schedule and work from 10am-6pm. In the morning, I get to action items, conceptual work, and priority meetings and calls, and in the afternoon emails. Around 4pm I stop for a tea break, it’s relaxing and a nice way to break up the day; I know I still have another 2 hours to get things done.

CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to run their own company do to set him or herself up for success? What’s the first step he or she should take?

AA: Start before you’re ready. Start a precursor to a business when you have that initial passion, even if you’re not sure of the exact structure. Organize around that spark and be flexible with changing course. Create something that is yours that you can grow and build and learn through. Have fun with it.

CJ: Was there ever a moment that greatly influenced or encouraged you to jump into entrepreneurship?

AA: During graduate school, I went on a trip sponsored by the Harvard Innovation Lab to NYC to meet with cultural entrepreneurs. We met with really great people: Arianna Huffington, Diane von Furstenberg, the founders of Rent the Runway, and more. I spent that week really critically thinking about starting a culture business. I hadn’t expected to do it this soon, but I knew it would happen someday. It feels good to have invested in it fully from the very beginning.

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CJ: How do you deal with and overcome tough days?

AA: With big projects, this is hard because often a lot rides on one day or one event. I try to isolate the source of the stress (is it related to getting something done, asking for something specific, variables beyond your control etc). If it can be handled, I just do it. If I need extra support, I talk to family and friends to help figure out a solution. But there is something to big projects where 48 hours or so before you have to be kind of Zen-like and let it go and be in execution mode. You work as much and as hard as humanly possible, but then there are situations where you have to let go – learning that will make a happier producer. Also, at the end of the day when I’m done, I’m done. I need those hours to go out or be home, have a glass of wine and recharge for the next day. I’m almost always refreshed and ready to go after a good nights sleep. 

CJ: What is something in your life – professional or personal – that you’re working to improve on and how are you doing that?

AA: Personally: keeping up with friends and family more consistently. 

CJ: How do you measure success?

AA: I am a very focused person so I have a couple of key goals and everything I do should feed into those goals ultimately. Success for me is getting things done at a steady pace and producing at a high quality both professional and more personal projects, that I’m happy with my work and so are my clients. Beyond that, being content and finding joy throughout the day. 

CJ: You’ve traveled quite a bit and moved for work – what is the best travel and moving advice you can share?

Take your spirit, leave your baggage. I wrote it in an article once and have since tried to follow my own advice.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

AA: Wise words from Kanye West: Steer clear of “opportunities” and focus on dreams.

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Image: Morgan West / A Creative D.C.