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The 29-year-old behind one of the world's largest art publishers wants to use art for social change. He's already launched an exhibition into space.

Mo Ghoneim sits in a chair looking to the side
Mo Ghoneim
  • Mo Ghoneim is the founder of nonprofit Arts Help, which seeks to highlight underrepresented artists.
  • It recently got $5 million in funding from billionaire Chris Larsen to address the climate crisis.
  • To Insider, Ghoneim talks what it takes to launch a nonprofit and the mission that drives him.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Mo Ghoneim was just 16 years old when he wrote his first television show - a pilot in which teenagers discuss issues impacting them. He sent the idea to various networks in his home city of Toronto, Canada, and actually got a response.

"I went to the network after school one day and met with the general manager," Ghoneim recalled to Insider. "They assumed I would be a lot older."

The show, TeenzTalk, stayed on for nearly three seasons and set the groundwork for what Ghoneim, now 29, would dedicate his life to - showcasing the stories of underrepresented individuals in order to educate and inspire the next generation of leaders and creators.

In 2013, he did just that - cofounding the Arts Help initiative with artist Sophie Brussaux, who left the company in March. At first, Arts Help was just an Instagram page reposting and highlighting the work from lesser-known artists around the globe. But as the page became more popular, Ghoneim and Brussaux saw an opportunity to help make a real impact for people. They self-funded and officially launched Arts Help as a nonprofit in 2018.

A year later, Arts Help began working with the United Nations, using art to help promote the UN's 17 sustainable development goals, which include eradicating poverty, advocating for gender equality, and combating the climate crisis.

Today, the organization is one of the largest art publishers in the world. It offers free classes, has amassed over 2.8 million followers on Instagram reaching over 50 million people monthly via the platform, as seen in stats confirmed by Insider. Arts Help also created award-winning exhibitions, and its website has profiled over 5,000 creators. Last year, Arts Help was ranked by Startup Pill as one of the top 101 art start-ups to follow.

This year, it won the Award of Excellence from the Economic Club of Canada for its work supporting artists, became the first digital art publisher to launch an exhibition into space, and received a $5 million investment from billionaire Chris Larsen to create more work addressing the climate crisis. The next goal for Arts Help is to look at starting a for-profit arm to help teach artists about entrepreneurship.

The headshots of each Arts Help executive
(L-R) Adiam Gafoo - Chief Operating Officer; Mo Ghoneim - Founder / Chief Strategy Officer; Mercedes Custodio - Chief Development Officer; Janice Lau-Pearson - Chief Marketing Officer

Arts Help uses social media to showcase artists

Arts Help is free for artists to use, so the organization makes money from designing art-centric programming for companies and provides corporate responsibility services.

Its staff consists of four people and 22 contributors, alongside a robust advisory council that includes lawyers, retail CEOs, top marketers, and entertainment and CEOs such as Larsen.

To find artists to highlight, Arts Help encourages people to use the hashtag #arts_help, and each quarter the team goes through the tag, searching for the work of those often underrepresented in the art world, and those who create work that references the missions of the UN's SDGs. The hashtag currently has nearly 4 million submissions.

Artist Zack Wolfe, 22, told Insider he's been tagging Arts Help for a while, trying to get the organization's attention - once he got it, however, it helped him gain credibility as an artist.

"I credit some of the most pivotal career highlights to Arts Help," he continued, adding that he eventually started becoming more involved with the organization. "Like designing digital work for Disney or even opportunities to partake in their program Artist for Social Change curriculum last month."

Arts Help billboard
Billboard in Toronto with work by artist Jose Fadamu. "Big billboards with an even bigger message," he wrote on Instagram. "Black excellence is to be celebrated every single day, not just today and tomorrow

Arts Help does not charge artists to be highlighted, and they do not pay them to feature their work; it also does not run ads on its platform. To help artists gain maximum exposure, oftentimes, it creates private group chats on platforms such as WhatsApp to connect with art enthusiasts.

It also takes advantage of the Instagram algorithm, which favors users who do activities such as post photos at the same time every day. For one local artist, Katarina Mogus, Arts Help posted a reel showing off her work, which has since amassed over 20 million views and 988,000 likes on Instagram. That's not including TikTok, where her work has gotten another 10,000 views.

Arts Help also uses digital billboards to showcase the work of artists, which it is able to obtain via its partnership with billboard companies. For artists getting a billboard, placement can cost thousands of dollars. "This is life-changing for an artist that typically would never get something like this," Ghoneim said. "Unless you're like a celebrity or you're endorsed by a brand, it's hard for you to get on radio or on a billboard."

Education will play a bigger part in for-profit

Arts Help's next plan is to enter the for-profit space, Ghoneim said. CEOs, alongside bitcoin and NFT enthusiasts, have been asking Arts Help to directly connect them with artists. But oftentimes new artists can be confused about how the world of business works, he said.

This led the Arts Help team to want to find more ethical ways for artists to monetize themselves, and it is looking at how it can become a liaison between the art world and entrepreneurship. It plans to create a new platform to help artists both showcase and sell their work. The platform will remain free for the artists, though Arts Help will take a fee from transactions.

It is currently working with a tech developer to build an NFT marketplace, though the deal still remains under wraps.

Arts Help
Mo Ghoneim and Barack Obama.

"My goal would be to inspire, not just young creators, but also everybody that is in the arts," Ghoneim said.

"Oftentimes people forget that they're creatives," he continued. "If we can create inspiration to say 'yes, I can make a sustainable living, there are platforms out there that support us into our careers - creating that awareness on a business level will be really exciting."

Read the original article on Business Insider

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