Aime Mulungula ’25 knows firsthand that artistic talent needs support and resources to succeed. Now in his second year at UConn, the young artist is channeling his skills and business acumen into creating a brand and support system for other young creatives, with the goal of giving back to the community that raised him.
Mulungula boasts all the accoutrements of a successful young UConn entrepreneur, including a fellowship from the Werth Institute and a research assistantship in the lab of management professor Ryan Coles, where he helped raise funds for Black entrepreneurs in Connecticut. But he was an artist first.
“I started drawing when I was in Tanzania,” where he was born, Mulungula says. “Ever since I remember, actually. But art was not taken seriously in my community in Tanzania.”
His serious engagement with visual art came after his family immigrated to Connecticut when he was 11 years old. After settling in New Haven, Mulungula discovered spaces like NXTHVN, an arts incubator that offers paid apprenticeships for high schoolers (among other resources for creatives of all ages). NXTHVN nurtured Mulungula’s creativity and gave him gallery space during its annual apprentice exhibition.
Mulungula felt compelled to use his art to combat the stereotypes about Africa and Africans that he encountered among his high school classmates. As part of his apprenticeship, he also visited local classrooms to give presentations on modern life across the continent of Africa. His gallery show featured portraits of prominent African artists and thinkers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lupita Nyong’o, and, fittingly, himself.
These portraits are now wearable pieces of art, the latest expansion of Mulungula’s brand Lebon Studio. Le bon, French for “the good,” was also Mulungula’s given name (he became “Aime” during the shuffle of paperwork that accompanied his immigration to the United States). The title of his 2021 self-portrait “The Benevolent” calls back to this name, underscoring the good that Mulungula sees his work achieving in the world.
Through Lebon, Mulungula hopes to provide a structure for mentorship and revenue opportunities for young artists. The brand features a social media presence, an online space for showcasing art, and an e-store for art prints and apparel.
“I’m trying to show that you can make money out of art,” Mulungula says. “For young artists, a lot of them will think, ‘I cannot do art, it doesn’t have a lot of revenue.’ So I’m trying to break that mindset.”
UConn’s Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation supports Lebon, as have his courses in the School of Business. After a freshman year spent immersed in the business world, Mulungula is finding it gratifying to focus on his artwork once again, letting his business knowledge buoy his work as he goes.
Lessons from the classroom have often led to instantaneous business changes, he says: “I’m applying what I’m learning to what I’m doing right now. I’ll learn something and be like, let me go to Instagram, change my bio right now. I’ll change what I post for the week based on what I learned in class.”
His studio art minor felt like a necessary addition to stay in touch with his creativity throughout college. Ultimately, Mulungula sees these twin interests uniting to make Lebon a hub for young emerging artists, in the vein of NXTHVN—connecting them with real-world studio and gallery spaces, promoting their artwork across social media, and helping them increase their profile in the creative world.
Giving back to his community is another goal he has for Lebon.
“I know artists like myself, in my community, that really never got the chance to explore and grow into their creativity because of the lack of resources. That’s not fair. I thought, what if I become the resource for these young entrepreneurs and artists?” Mulungula says. “Just give them anything that’s necessary for them to truly grow as creative individuals.”
As the brand grows, it will continue to foreground social consciousness and focus on encouraging young creatives of color.
“This is a space where everything that is good with being who you are is highlighted,” Lebon promises.
October is the Month of Discovery, when undergraduates are introduced to the wealth of research and innovation opportunities at UConn. This month, enjoy profiles of outstanding undergraduate researchers on UConn Today, attend a full slate of programming on campus and online, and register for Discovery Quest to launch your undergraduate experience to new heights.