5 mins read

#DNBusinessTalks – Chinwe Russell (Artist and much more)

I’m an entrepreneur first and an artist second


This is a series of stories told by leaders in the Doncaster area (City of). These stories have been curated by me (Kurt Ewald Lindley) as part of a collaboration between Doncaster CouncilDoncaster Chamber of Commerce, and other Team Doncaster members, to showcase not just the best of Doncaster but to inform the development of Doncaster’s Economic Strategy and

“make it the best place to do business”

In this blog we meet Chinwe Russell (Local Artist). As I walked up to Chinwe’s home based art studio, although I had made some assumptions of what may come from our conversation I by contrast had no idea where it might go.

So I’ll start this blog with my own lesson – ‘don’t make assumptions’ or at least don’t let these assumptions lead you. BE CURIOUS, you never know what’s within a person and what sits beyond what we can observe (in this case vibrant art work). Why do I say this… well it comes from one of Chinwe’s first comments.

“I’m an entrepreneur first and an artist second”

I was actually taken aback by this statement, almost thinking this is ‘blasphemy’. How can an artist say such a thing… I wanted to know more, where did this come from. To deal with the assumptions you too may be making around artist and the art scene, its worth me sharing Chinwe is much more than the artist I knew.

Chinwe has nearly 30 years of experience working across multiple industries and countries, holding an MBA in International Finance from the European school of Economics in Paris. She’s even developed her own Cosmetic and Skincare brand, which at one time was sending over 14,000 parcels a year around the world.

I guess its this insight that helped me understand Chinwe’s approach to her work. Also I thought who better to ask questions of regards ‘Doncaster’s Economic Strategy’.

The Journey – find a way

With a desire to get her art out into the wider community, in 2018 Chinwe turned her energy toward what was a dwindling and disparate art scene in Doncaster. She saw no clear path or place to show her work, so she created one.

“I had to find a way to make it work for me, go to where people are”.

Chinwe made art galleries of the pubs in the Market area of Doncaster, including an early collaboration with ‘The Rum Rooms’. I thought this was brilliant – bringing art into the spaces people are.

“It wasn’t for everyone at first, some people still needed convincing”

During this time she established the Doncaster Art Fair, exhibiting peoples work at the Corn Exchange (I remember the flyers and the call to action). Its aim being about bringing artists and the general public closer together, bridging the gap between groups that would not normally connect.

“I worked hard (well smart) on getting the sector going, now 4 years on we have a vibrant art scene”

This community and entrepreneurial spirit continues today, with the founding of what is perhaps best described as a crowd funded gallery. Through the contribution of artist time and small amounts of money the D31 art gallery was born. A vibrant space giving opportunities to local (and not so local) artists to show and sell their work, as well as providing the public with the chance to see (and purchase) work created within their own community.

Challenges in Business – finding a home for your work

I wanted to revisit Chinwe’s statement about being an entrepreneur first and an artist second. This really intrigued me. Chinwe explained – the world is filled with unsold art”. I found this statement profound; she went on to share a paraphrased version of her approach to producing work…

“I create with a purpose, I do my research, I ask who will buy this, where will it go, then let the creative juices go to work”

There was a lot of depth in this one statement, the desire not to produce for production sake, too create with intent and with the knowledge that a collection will have a home before it is even created. Her message to those she mentors “create smarter, know you end goal and do your homework”.

I love how there is a business model that sits behind all the work that she creates.

Lessons for others – from a little village

“Lots of people giving a little goes a long way” – this lesson originated from her (little) village back in Nigeria, where growth and betterment of the community is based on the collective wealth of small contributions from the many.

Advice to a younger you (and the ones who didn’t choose so well)

  • Ask yourself – what are you giving, know your contribution to your community

The Legacy – provide employment for yourself

When I asked Chinwe, what might be your legacy in shaping a better economic future for Doncaster? her response was:

“if I had the time it would be to help create 200 small businesses in the next 12 months”

The speed of progress, growth and action that a one person business can make is far greater and quicker than that of medium to large organisations.

The Call to Action – teach others

I asked Chinwe “what’s your call to action for the business community”:

Chinwe’s request “where you can coach, offer coaching to those that need it to go from unemployed to small business owner, lets start more businesses, lets fill the empty stores around the city”.

Your one ask of ‘Team Doncaster’

Those who know Chinwe won’t be surprised by her passionate views on this.

“Involve real people”

She went on to say; “When we meet to discuss these big issues (e.g. economic growth) I don’t see the real people of Doncaster there. If they are not at those meetings who are we building the strategy for”.

Her wish is that we find a way for the people of Doncaster to find ownership of this. To reach those who would not normally care. For them to go beyond their day to day of working to provide 3 square meals and a roof over their head. We need to move beyond conversation, breakaway from the tradition and make things happen.

“The real people of Doncaster are the ones who will make the change, if we can reach them”

In closing

One focus of Chinwe’s work is ‘belonging’, ‘immigration’ and ‘displacement’. As a Nigerian born resident of Doncaster having lived outside of her home country longer than within, she finds herself between worlds, “being neither here nor there”.

Chinwe acknowledged ‘place’ (and Doncaster is a place of places) as informing identity and wondered if maybe she was more ‘European’ now or even more a Doncastrian.

Chinwe has much wisdom to share, to much to fit here, but one such message of guidance that sat with me is the richness in ‘a people’ when we see beyond colour. She believes strongly – “the story is the people…we should study people, not colour…..”

Chinwe has never wanted to create pieces that just hung on walls, she wanted to create pieces that people wanted to talk about. I think that goes for this story too. But this time Chinwe wants the conversation to lead to action.

Chinwe is one of many who are making Doncaster the best place to do business. And its from her story and the stories of others that ‘Team Doncaster’ hope to create a robust, prosperous Economic Strategy for our City.

Do you have a story or know of a Doncaster Leader with a story to share for #DNBusinessTalks, get in touch here