SANTA CRUZ -- Twenty-year-old computer science major Radhika Mitra is founder and CEO the nonprofit organization Renaissance Now, which supports underprivileged artists around the world. Glamour Magazine has chosen the UC Santa Cruz student as one of seven inspiring young women to compete in its Reader's Choice Contest.
Mitra, who founded the organization at age 17, will take home $1,500 for her cause if she can earn the most votes on the Glamour website by Jan. 28.
As a teenager on a family visit to her hometown of Calcutta, Mitra watched as a young boy was trampled by a rickshaw while trying to sell her a handcrafted necklace. "He was basically ignored by the entire community," she said.
Mitra said she found it upsetting that poverty kept talented artists from sharing their work. Back in Fremont, she sought help from her parents and mentors to form a 501(c)(3) organization that helps artist build skills and connect with potential buyers. By gaining the tax status, Renaissance Now is officially a tax-exempt nonprofit.
Mitra and her younger sister Ritwika launched a YouTube channel to broadcast tutorials about photography and filmmaking. "We are very technologically savvy," she said, "so we try to create projects that involve "... both technical and creative entrepreneurship." At the end of each video, they asked viewers to donate either $1 or their used art tools.
In its first year, Renaissance Now raised $10,000.
"They're super talented, so they pick it up really quickly," she said.
She said she was awed that participants took time to share new skills with others in their community.
Since 2009, Renaissance Now has funded five other workshops in India, Bangladesh and Romania, reaching more than 10,000 families.
The sisters also designed the website rennow.org, where people interested in donating, hosting a workshop, or recommending an artist in need can get in touch with Mitra.
Mitra now wants to focus on promoting artists closer to home. She said she envisions founding a local art cooperative and organizing fundraising events with the support of her community at UC Santa Cruz's Porter College. "I think UC Santa Cruz is well-versed culturally and artistically," she said. "People really connect with the cause because I think art is universal."
If she gains the most votes, Mitra will use the $1,500 Reader's Choice prize for more workshops and supplies.
Renaissance Now has raised more than $50,000, and Mitra wants to double that in 2013. She said she values every contribution, and tries to respond personally to each donor. "Because it's coming from another person, and another person believes in the cause, it makes a difference," she said.
On the net
To donate money or art supplies, recommend an artist in need or volunteer to host an art workshop, go to www.rennow.org.
To vote for Radhika Mitra in the Reader's Choice Contest, go to http://www.glamour.com/inspired/blogs/the-conversation/2013/01/the-2013-top-ten-college-women.html.