Kelechi Mpamaugo ’20, a fine arts student whose coverage has become a staple at campus events within the black community, recently launched her own creative agency, Kelechi.ca.
Through the creative agency, Mpamaugo will deliver creative services to her clients in the form of video production, photography and graphic design work as well as promotional material and marketing campaigns.
“I was creating a space for myself where there wasn’t a space for myself because I didn’t fit in anywhere,” she told The Sun.
After interning at a design studio in Bangkok, Thailand this summer, Mpamaugo received the final push she needed to take the leap and start her own company in July, something she has always wanted to do.
“The biggest struggle has been ignorance. My parents didn’t teach me to be business savvy; they aren’t businesspeople. I am not a business major or minor,” Mpamaugo said. “I am still learning and making mistakes.”
Mpamaugo first narrowed in on digital art after taking a class her freshman year at Cornell with former visiting faculty Prof. Stephanie Owens, art and digital media. While Mpamaugo always had a passion for art, most of her free time in high school was spent playing sports.
“I came from playing basketball at a top five high school,” she said. “That’s where all my time went in high school, so I didn’t have the time I needed to explore and figure out exactly what I wanted to do until I got to Cornell.”
The art class with Owens inspired Kelechi to explore digital art and to practice industry standard skills in programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. Mpamaugo estimated that she has invested 4,000 hours worth of design work into perfecting her craft.
Mpamaugo began her on-campus business by chance however, after shooting photos and videos at an Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity party in November 2016. She was already taking videos and pictures of the night when she learned that it was the birthday of one of the members, Nicolas Earley ’17, an upperclassmen whom she respected.
“I started making a birthday reel for him: taking videos of the party, pictures of the party, pictures of the Alphas [and] taking videos of people giving shoutouts to him,” she said. “I made the video and he loved it.”
After the birthday video’s positive response, Alpha Phi Alpha hired Mpamaugo for a Christmas photoshoot that year. Soon, other sororities and fraternities took note of her talent and began requesting her services. In 2017, she documented the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and the Omega Psi Phi fraternity probates, events that introduce new members.
Mpamaugo has since done photoshoot campaigns, been a staple at events within the black community and showcased her work on her personal website, kelechimp.com.
After going for a semester abroad however, she noticed a dearth of creative people documenting the black community back on campus.
“When I was gone last semester I recognized there was no one really doing or carrying on the work I was doing [before],” she said. “Documenting the black community, taking pictures, creating fliers, creating videos, capturing our experience because no one is going to do it for us. Cornell doesn’t do it for us.”
While she notes there are emerging creatives within the black community at Cornell, she hopes to inspire and recruit more through her creative agency. Mpamaugo told The Sun that she is curating a group of creative people for her agency to begin work in the next two semesters.
As a first-generation Nigerian-American, Mpamaugo has also felt the pressure from her parents and society to choose a career in the more “traditional three” career paths of law, medicine and engineering. She told The Sun that she often hears questions about what she will do with a fine arts degree.
However, Cornell allowed Mpamaugo to explore the possibility of a creative career and realize that it was feasible for her. She turned down top art and design schools like Rhode Island School of Design and Pratt Institute because of the liberal arts education, prestige and network Cornell offers, she said.
“Cornell has allowed that freedom to be creative and that freedom to think by providing good opportunities so I can sustain myself and grow as a creator,” she said.
Through Cornell, Mpamaugo has been able to work with the architecture college, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and conduct research as a Hunter Rawlings III Presidential Research Scholar.
“I think that Cornell providing what I needed, providing opportunities for this to be a lucrative dream of mine, has definitely given me the confidence to continue to work,” she said. “The reality is if I had been doing this all this time and not seeing any money, then I probably would have quit a long time ago.”
Despite outside pressures, Mpamaugo has been able to realize her true passions in art and design, stating that her main goals are to be happy and build a legacy for other first-generation and minority students.
“It’s very hard to have a meaningful life without doing meaningful work,” she said.