Student Success

Art and social change focus of first ever Arts & Science entrepreneurial co-op

Two cultural anthropology students are the first to take part in an entrepreneurial co-operative work term in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Lethbridge.

Canvas art created by Ipaa.
Typically, students who participate in a co-op term undertake paid, full-time work for a semester or longer with an employer. With an entrepreneurial or e-co-op, students essentially work for themselves.

“E-co-ops are an exciting and unique opportunity for students to invest in their business full time while maintaining their student status,” says Lukas Neamtu, programs coordinator and instructor with Co-operative Education & Applied Studies. “Students work closely with the Co-operative Education office, Agility and local companies such as tecconnect, as they learn about entrepreneurialism and the key steps of building a business. They also gain access to an exceptional network of experts and professionals.”

Bariyaa Ipaa and Cecilia Reid, who’ve been friends since they were both students at Winston Churchill High School, launched Art with Purpose in the fall of 2015. They’re both passionate about art and social change and Art with Purpose gave them a way to bring those interests together.

Bariyaa Ipaa

“We produce and sell artworks and use the money to fund local and international community projects,” says Ipaa.

In addition to prints, stickers and cards are made from the original artworks. They also sell handmade bracelets, original paintings and painting on denim jackets. They both contribute artwork and share in the administrative duties.

They found it easy to manage their studies and their business when they were in their first year. By second year, their studies demanded more of their time and they decided to put Art with Purpose on hold. The break gave them a chance to determine how they could make their development work different from the mainstream.

“Since we started this project, the learning that comes with Art with Purpose has coincided with our studies. We’re choosing courses we think will help us improve Art with Purpose,” says Reid.

“We want to make sure that the communities involved in our projects have agency to speak for themselves and say what their wants and needs are. It’s for us to listen and help them facilitate that goal,” says Ipaa.

Reid, wanting to apply knowledge gained in the classroom, was considering doing a co-op work term for the fall 2018 semester. She spoke to Neamtu, programs coordinator and instructor with Co-operative Education & Applied Studies, who helped set up the entrepreneurial co-op. They soon met Brandy Old, program coordinator with Agility, and she helped them go through the necessary steps to establish a business. They’re also taking an entrepreneurial boot camp course through Economic Development Lethbridge.

Cecilia Reid
“The flexibility has been really great so we can grow in the direction we want. We have several mentors to help us in different fields,” says Reid.

They are currently working on a library project in Malawi. During their first year at the U of L, they participated in the Malawi field study with Dr. Jean Harrowing (BSc ’78), where they met Aaron Maluwa, a facilitator for the field study.

“He understands what his community needs,” says Ipaa. “We kept in contact with him even after the trip and decided we wanted to focus on education. Out of our own pockets, we were sponsoring five students who were orphans and didn’t have the funding to complete secondary schooling. Then we also started thinking about a library project.”

“We wanted Art with Purpose to take on something new, so we reached out to Aaron. He was interested in a library project as well,” says Reid.

“Funding this library project will benefit the girls and women in the community especially, since girls are often disproportionately underrepresented in classrooms,” says Ipaa. “Later on, this transfers into women being underrepresented in the public sphere. This project will be crucial in helping young girls pursue a future they desire and gain economic agency independently of men.”

Their goal is to raise $26,000 and they’re planning a fundraising event in February with an art show and silent auction. The event coincides with Black History Month and is intended to empower the Black community in Lethbridge but it will also be an educational event for the general population.

“What I want out of the art show is to create conversation about identity, race, gender and the Black experience,” says Ipaa.

Art with Purpose can be found on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter.