Chinwe Oparaji is a creative who owns the tech space and has completed multiple graphic design and web development internships. On the side she has founded the The Smile Market, a nonprofit organization, which assists young artists in publicizing their work. She is also a current Boston University student, successfully juggling academics, career and side hustle.
Harper: First off, can you tell us about your job?
Chinwe: I have a couple. I'm a student first and foremost. I have participated in web development and graphic design internships. Then there is The Smile Market (TSM)— it's a non-profit organization that I'm building for early artists to gain real–world entrepreneurship and networking experience, by sponsoring their fees at art markets and providing them with mentors to get started in the world of art entrepreneurship.
Harper: What would a productive day look like for you?
Chinwe: I've checked and replied to all my Slack messages and emails. Then making sure I'm caught up on the to-do list of things to buy, design, etc. Then attempting to have my schedule for next week loosely sketched out. This rarely happens though.
Harper: What brings you the most joy in your work?
Chinwe: For TSM (The Smile Market), we have mentor meetups about twice a month. When mentors interact with the artists, the artists get a boost of confidence in what they are doing and the mentors love to share their previous knowledge and I'm in the midst of it all just soaking it up. It's really nice to get everyone together and support each other like that.
Harper: What do you think has been the most pivotal or most influential thing in getting you to where you are today?
Harper: What advice would you give to someone who is starting out in the work world for the first time?
Chinwe: Be sincere and honest with yourself. Don't be afraid to ask questions and interact with people that you feel like "aren't able to help you" or are "too busy to give you advice".
Harper: How you have found community in college?
Chinwe: I am definitely creating a community with TSM and from previous internships. My family will always be my community pre and post-college.
When TSM was still an idea, I pitched my idea to many different people (even strangers on the sidewalk) to see if this was something that was needed. As it turned out, the people who were most critical of my idea, in the beginning, are my closest allies now. An example is with the Artisan’s Asylum, I met two of the coordinators, Anne and Ilana, at some pop-up orientation. I remember leaving very embarrassed because they grilled about me who’s helping the cause, how will I get the funds, and what infrastructure I had in place: I had nothing to tell them. But Ilana still agreed to do a follow-up meeting with me (largely in part because I was a student) Our next visit, however, I came prepared with more answers and she came with more not only more critiques but also with other leads and people that might be influential to making this idea come to life. It was the Artisan’s Asylum that first offered a space for TSM fellows to sell their work, which led to other organizations reaching out to me because they could see what I was actually doing. This TSM community has grown primarily because of people whom I told my idea about and didn’t just tell me it was “awesome”.
Harper: What has surprised you most about starting your work?
Chinwe: People are a lot nicer than I thought, as long as you give them your honest time and input.
Harper: What has inspired you most in this work?
Chinwe: I get to see a lot of artists at markets. They are making the COOLEST stuff and do things a lot differently than I. So as a designer, I'm always just thinking, "dang why I ain't think of that yet?" And artists are usually very willing to tell you about their process so I'm always learning new things, art-wise and management-wise.
Harper: What is your go-to office wear?
Chinwe: A long sleeve shirt with a sleeveless dress on top. Some kind of white sneaker paired with. Statement earrings if I'm feeling especially eccentric.
Thanks so much for meeting with us Chinwe!