Starting the company at 18, I definitely had a rough time at first understanding how I was going to present myself to other entrepreneurs in Boston. I was definitely put down a few times because of my age. But in a way, I think that gives me power and that's one of my biggest strength. Yes - I am young - but also yes I am doing this so young because I have a mission, I believe in it and I'm actually taking action!
What ]are you especially excited about right now?
I’m excited about meeting new people and traveling to new places.
What was the process for starting bistara? How did the idea come about? How did you arrive at this current form? What are your hopes for the future?
I started bistara when I was in college. It all came together because I realized that most of my creative peers at Emerson College were taking odd jobs or running errands to pay off their students debts and daily expenses. They didn’t feel valued for their work in their respective creative fields, and therefore didn’t feel motivated to think outside the box and push forward with their careers. Meanwhile, I trained myself as a photographer, got paid experience with freelance gigs, expanded my network and built my portfolio before graduation. I wanted to empower my peers to be their own boss through creative freelance gigs. I was getting most of my clients by word of mouth and realized there was no easy way to hire creative college freelancers online. That’s how bistara was born. Our site has been active for about a year and a half now in more than a hundred schools nationwide. Right now, we’re preparing a back to school campaign to launch a crowdfunding campaign. This campaign will allow us to rebuild an updated version of bistara and grow our team.
You mentioned that diversity is important to you. What role do you see your work/organization playing in tackling the challenges that the lack of diversity creates?
It is really important for me that people understand that we are all humans with a desire for connection and collaboration even with different stories and backgrounds. Art and creative thinking is a tool to unite us, a tool for positive impact and social change. With bistara, I want to empower young creatives to use that tool! If we can start with college students, then we can have a greater impact on the kind of society that they will be a part of building when they graduate.
The freelance life is a well-known by artists in all fields, especially those just starting their careers. We all know the struggles and successes that come from working on creative gigs. But it doesn’t always have to be a struggle to find meaningful work and that’s where Maya Rafie comes into play.
While of Lebanese descent, Maya grew up in Paris and San Francisco. Pursuing a degree at Emerson College brought her to Boston where she experienced the struggles of being a freelancer firsthand. Realizing that her experience of being self-employed was not unique she started Bistara to tackle some of the problems that plague the arts industries by connecting talented artists with excellent clients. Bistara has grown tremendously since its incarnation and is looking to continue its expansion.
As a young Middle Eastern woman living in the US, I also wish to bridge the gap between Middle Eastern young creatives and potential collaborators or clients in the US. My first steps in doing so was to produce a documentary to be shot in Beirut last summer, when I built a Boston team and a Lebanon team. Unfortunately, the situation in Lebanon was not stable for the Boston team to fly out and the documentary hasn’t gone into production yet. So last October, I brought bistara to Lebanon! We participated at a startup competition and the feedback from the audience was incredible. Eventually, I want to start a scholarship for young Middle Eastern creatives to come study in the US!
What's one thing you wish you had known before getting to where you are today?
When you get into entrepreneurship, into starting something new—especially if you’re trying to break stereotypes—you have to understand that it’s not going to be an easy path. There’s going to be times where you’ll feel like a lot is falling apart and you’ll have to remind yourself of the positive impact that you have on others—and that’s when you’ll have to pick yourself up. You’ll also need to understand that entrepreneurship also means taking ownership of your life and removing toxic relationships out of your life, you have a company to run and a mind and heart to guard. These are some thoughts I wish I had understood earlier. But hey— I'm young, I have lots to learn!
“Art and creative thinking is a tool to unite us, a tool for positive impact and social change.”
Who are some artists that you feel have impacted your own practice?
There’s my dad with his photographs of the civil war in Lebanon. There’s my first photo teacher Scott Davis who takes breathtaking photo essays across the globe. There's my brother who got me into concert photography. The work of Leila Alaoui, Rania Matar, Shirin Neshat, Hashem El Madani, Elliott Erwitt, Platon, JR constantly inspire me. I am forever in awe of their ability to tell stories and connect so deeply with their subjects. Outside the fields of design and art, I take a lot of walks— you never know who’ll you meet! I learn SO much from strangers.
What have been some of your biggest strengths vs struggles during your career so far?
Resilience. The past four years have been filled with experiences to say the least. Moving across the country for college, having to speak English all the time, starting a company, graduating early, relationships, deaths, graduating, freelancing—it's not always light and breezy! But this is where my family is my constant reminder of courage and resilience. We have a heavy heritage of growing up during the civil war in Lebanon. I've learned from them that no matter what chaos you're going through you'll always find a way to make it better. There's always a way out and living in fear will not help. Sometimes, you just have to be very rational and look at the big picture — then you'll have a clearer way on how to move forward.
What's in your margins?
I read a lot of poetry – I’ll take fragments of sentences that I love and put them together in my own way. By doing that, I come up with affirmations on a post it that help me set up goals for the day. It’s kind of a reminder of where I’m from – I am fragments of different places and how I decide to put those fragments together defines who I am. Also music! In the past few years, I’ve surrounded myself with incredible musicians and I am constantly fangirling. My Spotify playlists are ridiculous ! It’ll go from Soca music to Toto to Arabic music to my friends’ bands (let me casually just drop names right here but you should listen to Ana Maria Villa, Ripe, Mufaro Kambarami, Wake Child, Marco Mares and like I have 5,000 more)