The Wing’s Alyse Archer-Coité talks redefining success and forging her own path
Alyse Archer-Coité is a woman that embodies the belief that there is no linear path to achieving one’s definition of success. “I think if you feel intimidated by not knowing enough, or not having credentials, find someone smarter than you, and get to know them,” she says. “And I think more than anything, representation of unique, unexpected, underrepresented perspectives are hugely important.”
As the Director of Culture & Programming at A/D/O and Event Director at The Wing, Alyse’s diverse career has laid the foundation for her insightful perspective regarding the power that programming and brand partnerships have in bringing people from all walks of life together. With a background rooted in art history and political science, Alyse has worked for Sotheby’s, Phillips Auction House, NeueHouse, Freunde von Freunden, Yabu Pushelberg and even created her own arts and culture publication, MAKER Magazine.
Fueled by her mantra to “be visible and seem capable” Alyse sat down with me to discuss her start within the art world and the interests that push her desire to remain curious. She also spoke about seeing more diversity within programming and how this passion became a driving force behind her ambition to produce programming that resonates across multiple disciplines. From her warm demeanor to her intuitive recollection of her journey to the woman she is today, I was deeply moved by her ability to trust her instincts and follow a trajectory that is distinctively her own.
COOLS: Tell us about your career trajectory, and how it has changed throughout the years. What influenced your career decisions?
Alyse Archer-Coité: I studied art history and political science; a not so atypical pairing. I worked in the arts for many years when I left school. When I graduated, I took some time off and moved to LA to be with my mom. I went to Europe and spent a couple years there, trying to see if there was any possibility for work. It was right after the market crashed in 2008, so it was really really weak. I didn’t have a job anymore, so I thought maybe I should use more political science interest and see if there was a more stable work field there. I loved it, but I didn’t want to be away from the States and my mom, so I came home to LA. And she was like “What are you gonna do next?” and I thought about starting a magazine, but that wasn’t necessarily the most fruitful of concepts for me. So I took a job in New York at another auction house called Phillips. It was called Phillips de Pury at the time, now it’s Phillips. But I worked there in the contemporary art department. And while I was there, I started my magazine called MAKER, which I only had for a couple of years. It was print, full of imagery. Not really a critique of contemporary art, more just a collection of things I found interesting, and new works from artists. I continued to do that for a couple years after I left Phillips. I kinda started the magazine because I had been in the secondary market for so long. For me, it was the beginning of my career. I started in auctions, and auctions are incredible, but it is like working at a brokerage firm in a way. There’s a really expansive business element, so you spend a lot of time talking about numbers. It was not as interesting to me to be thinking about the business aspect of the work. I started the magazine as a way to answer to that feeling of not necessarily having the opportunity to appreciate art for art’s sake. I put in things I liked, whether they were good to anybody else or worth any money. I started freelancing and doing magazines for other people. I started working with NeueHouse. I worked on their first print magazine, helped them develop the team and understand who they should hire, how much money they should spend. What art directors were doing interesting stuff, what graphic design agencies were particularly of interest for them. Then I moved to Berlin. I was on my way to Turkey for a wedding, and I had written a couple articles for Freunde von Freunden a few years before, on the side for fun. I went to a meeting with them, and they offered me a job and a visa to stay on as their managing editor. And I said “Sure.” So I didn’t come from Turkey after the wedding. I stayed in Berlin, and lived out of my packed stuff for 2 or 3 weeks. I lived out of that bag for almost a year. When I was in Berlin, the transition from fine art to design kind of happened. They were focused in design and architecture, but lifestyle as well. They do a lot in art, and graphic design, some in fashion. They’re really all about makers, and their built environment. That was how I got started in interior and architecture. I started learning USM, Vitra. German design brands. Europe in general has such an extensive design history, more so than the US. I learned in sort of a crash course there, what they mean for the contemporary world and for creatives. Then I came home from Berlin, because I was offered this job that I’m doing right now; at A/D/O as the director of programming.
COOLS: You use your interests as an extra push to learn and allow that to be your path.
AAC: I think coming to New York young, and starting as an intern. I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to work there. I was a sophomore in college, and didn’t think it was unreasonable for them to hire me full time. Looking back now, it’s totally unreasonable, them hiring a sophomore in college full time. But being young and naive is sometimes the key to making a lot of things happen in your life. Making my magazine, I didn’t know anything about print. I just knew about the catalogs at the auction house. Publishing and things like that I knew a bit about, but I didn’t really understand what I was taking on mentally and financially. If I knew any more than I did, then I wouldn’t have done it. So I think being naive is half of it, because I think there’s a lot of bravery there. Just because you don’t know any better. You can get propelled into a lot of different things, good and bad. Not anticipating that you shouldn’t be somewhere because you don’t know everything about it. My cousin just graduated from Loyola. She was interning at Vice. She was asking me what I thought she should do to set herself up for the work force after she leaves school. I told her that the best advice I had ever gotten was “Be visible and seem capable.” I think that’s a huge part of it, especially in the job market in a creative field. People see you out being positive, working, doing things that you like doing. That’s really half the battle. Sitting at home cold emailing is probably the worst way to get a new job, in the market as it stands. All of it makes sense, one step to the next. I understand on a resume it looks a little bit disjointed. But it all felt very related to me, and the most likely next step when I was doing them.
COOLS: You definitely have a strong background in art, and then you moved to design and creating your own publication. How would you say that your experience influenced your work right now?
AAC: I think it’s great to have a really diverse cross section of friends and colleagues, and contacts in general. When you’re looking at programming a year, you have to be rigid in a lot of ways. It’s like planning an editorial calendar. There are only so many days, and there are better days to do things than others. Especially in New York, with the holiday season and winter. There are things in places that you have to plan around. Which is related to my editorial background, which is helpful. But I think having a lot of friends that don’t come strictly from design or theory educational backgrounds, not as rigid in the concepts of what can be presented to the public. [I spend] a lot of time trying to program for myself. I think that other people my age, or with my background or interests, what would get them into a design space for programming? I’ve spoken with lots of designers about what kind of design event they would go to. And they always say “I would never go to a design event. I don’t want to be in a room full of other designers.” I think that’s normal. If you work in fashion, do you want to go to an event where everyone in the room is in fashion, or do you want to be sitting next to a neuroscientist, and an architect, and a stay at home mom? The idea is that you would be sitting in a room with a group of people who are just as curious as you, but might not have the same credentials. And so the great thing about design, at least at A/D/O, is to bring designers in, but to also bring in the public. And encourage them to talk to each other, and question each other, and to learn from each other. Because that’s where the more interesting new concepts come from, that cross pollination. And the great thing about having a space — and that’s premium in New York, to have space to do a thing — you can invite people in, pose a question and see what happens. So, low stakes and very high reward. Learning a lot from the people who are using the space and coming in for programming. It’s a lot of trial and error, but it’s worth it.
COOLS: A lot of people don’t think like that. They want to have all the people be from the same background, and it creates this bubble.
AAC: There’s a lot of talk about diversity in the tech world, or inherent prejudice in the way products are made. I listened to a podcast about Snapchat or something like that, and this woman was complaining that her and a friend who was Asian-American, both put on the same filter, and it picked her face up and not the other. And it’s not because the creators of the app are trying to exclude people of darker complexions, but it’s probably that the creators of the app all look similar. So when you’re creating an app like that, you’re the litmus test. That’s a thing that happens across many fields. It’s not just products and prototyping. It’s also experiences and exchanges of information, and who has access to what. I wouldn’t say that it’s on purpose, but people sometimes end up all in the same room making decisions, and they all have the same background. I think making decisions, or suggestions, or making things, is a great opportunity for us. Not just in programming. I think it’s a great lesson for anyone doing anything. Diversifying is instrumental to the outcome.
COOLS: I’ve noticed your work with The Wing, and doing a lot of community building. What’s your perspective on your time with The Wing and how it informs your work?
AAC: The Wing is a project that’s near and dear to my heart. The ladies are very special and curious. And ambitious, which is always nice to be around. The programming there is a lot freer in a lot of ways. It doesn’t have the design and architecture lenses applied to it, and it’s also exclusively for women. There are aspects of it that are a little more difficult. Women have a broad range. Women of a certain age may be more interested in a flower arranging workshop, than younger women and women with children. What time would they come to a thing? Are they available during the day, or 7pm, or do they need to be able to come with their children? It’s just making sure that you think about all the different types of women, and all their different needs. It’s not only about age and background, but their needs and lifestyles. It’s really interesting to do, and it’s been a challenge but it’s so fun to be around women who are not in my immediate friend group. All my friends are kind of in the same age range. Very rarely am I in a space where I’m sharing privileged information with women who are over 60. So that’s been really incredible. I didn’t realize how much I was missing that in my life. The Wing is really special, and it provides something really unique. I think it provides something more special than it might think it provides. There aren’t a lot of clubs like that for us. After you leave Girl Scouts, and 4H club, and then you go to a sorority. Then you graduate, and where else can you be with other women in confidence? It’s something I really cherish, and I wish I had more time to do more with them. But again, there’s only so many days. They’re very very active, and if you’re not a member you should definitely look into getting involved.
COOLS: What would you say an average day is like at A/D/O? Or throughout the week just working?
AAC: It’s funny, I spend more time than I would expect talking to other young women, who are younger than me, but looking for their next step. I spend a lot of time doing that, and I spent the morning yesterday with someone who wanted to know what I was up to in my career. She wanted to sit down and see what I thought about her next step. Which is nice, because diversity of experience is just as important as any other type of diversity. I start my day there, usually taking meetings in a restaurant. I have a small team. We typically look at the calendar for the week, and then see where we can plug some new things in. As we’re getting into the summer, we’re looking at some really fun, easygoing programming that utilizes the outdoor space. Coming into the fall, we have a ton of projects. Mostly international, so we’re organizing ourselves around that. Starting time is 9:45, 10. I live in the area, so I spend a lot of time in the area. Today I’m going to meet up with a creative agency that we met in Milan. So I do a lot of follow up. I meet people out at a thing, or we do an exhibition. A lot of my job as director of programming is to make and maintain relationships. Programming is like with anything else – if you want a brand new job, you shouldn’t be at home looking at jobs on your computer. You should be out meeting people, and letting it be known that you’re looking for work. It’s a lot of my job to spend a lot of my time out meeting people, trying to understand what they’re working on, putting them in a category of “check on this again in 6 months.” Making and maintaining relationships is a lot of my job, and is probably the most fun part. I’m in a unique position of where I can say “Oh, this is interesting.” Or, “I’m curious about ‘x’.” And because the project is so new, there’s still a lot of mystery about who we are and what we do. It’s really helped me in getting people to take an initial meeting or come by the space. I think people have a concept already of what it is. The exciting aspect is getting people in for the first time, and really getting to color their experience of the space and what they do there. It’s all very exciting. I am the first director of programming, and this is the first space of its kind. It’s fun to be a part of that in the early days. It’s like a start up.
COOLS: What are some of the things that inspire you, or things that you are interested in right now?
AAC: I’m interested in the things that affect my day to day quality of life. Things like policy in cities. How cities are growing and changing and the needs of people in cities. Living in New York is a wonderful, incredible, really special thing. New York is a really difficult city to live in comfortably. I think that’s part of why it’s so great. But there are a lot of things that make New York difficult. So I think the great part of working in design, you get the opportunity to think about it from a problem solving point of view. Not a victim of the system point of view. When you talk about affordable housing, or community building, or thinking about bringing back bartering for goods and things like that. Just the way people occupy their space, and how much space a person needs to leave comfortably, and what you can share with your neighbor to lower your carbon footprint. All that kinds of thinking. Lots of people are thinking about that right now. I try to stay on top of it and read about it. There are a lot of changes coming at us in NYC especially. And we have this incredible incubator in our space called UrbanX, and they try to make urban life better. So if this was Indiana, we might be having a different conversation, but New York City is such a mecca. We’re an important place in the constellation of city and urban life. So that is really interesting. I’ve been traveling a ton lately. I have more travel coming up. I’ve been to Mexico City, I was on vacation recently, and then before that Milan. Then I think before that London, and a couple other places. In any case, I’ve been traveling a lot. Some for work and research, and some for fun. Mexico City has changed so much in the last couple of years, because of the cultural importance of architecture in things like that. I’m interested in that — sort of the cultural and human aspects of design and architecture. I still obviously love art. I still care very deeply about that. I’m living in a new apartment in Greenpoint. I’m spending a lot of time trying to buy things for my house, trying to support young designers, so whenever I see something while I’m out or I’m working. Or I try to buy directly from designers on Instagram. My next trip is to Munich. Our headquarters are in Munich. After that I’m going to the south of France for a meeting. The south of France is not the worst place you could end up for a meeting.
COOLS: What is something that you want to be a lasting takeaway from your work? What kind of impression do you want to leave?
AAC: That whole mantra about being visible and being capable. It’s ok to not be sure of what happens next. It’s ok to ask questions of people around you. Not even especially women. If you see someone around you with a lot more than you, don’t run from that person. Just get to them. That’s the best way to learn, and also just to be challenged on your own knowledge. I think sometimes I get really comfortable on how much I know about a thing, and we realize how little we know, but how exciting, and how much your curiosity can carry you. I think if you feel intimidated by not knowing enough, or having credentials, find someone smarter than you, and get to know them. And I think more than anything representation of unique, and unexpected, and underrepresented perspectives is hugely important. Not only for the people who are being represented, but in order to stay relevant and healthy, diversity is a major key. I joked with my mom, that here we see so many designer dogs. I didn’t know New York was the city of designer dogs. My mom has a mutt, who will probably outlive all of us. I grew up with mutts, and they’ve always lived 14, 18 years. Whereas designer dogs tend to have tons of issues because of breeding. It’s a crude analogy, but the idea that mutts live forever is a good way to think about life experience in programming. If diversity is experience, it creates a much longer lasting, and a much stronger point of view in most things. I think it’s the same in any creative field; the more diversity, the better. As people, especially in New York, we’re not just able to do one thing. [We] start off as children super curious about everything. Then you work in a job for 4, 5, 6, 10 years and you feel reduced to that work. The world is big, and there’s lots of people who would be happy to have your point of view applied to something totally left. [Stay] curious, [stay] confident.