It’s often said that young people need to be able to see themselves represented before they can aspire to success in a particular field. Halifax-based artist and entrepreneur Jo Napier's new venture sees her painting successful women with that in mind. 

Napier’s Great Women Portrait Project invites business and industry leaders to use portrait art as a tool to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. As we celebrate International Women's Day, we want to showcase this project and Napier's salute to influential women. 

“Images have power,” Napier told Entrevestor. “And art is transformative: I believe it can change mindsets in ways that training courses and workshops can’t…”

The former technology journalist and author launched The Great Women Portrait Project with the aim of reflecting female pioneers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

"I want to create a constellation of collaborators, who reveal the female face of innovation," said Napier, who has the support of NASA specialist Frances ‘Poppy’ Northcutt, who calculated the trajectories that brought Apollo astronauts back from the moon in the 1960s. 

“We both want to give girls their role models,” said Napier. “And this project helps corporate and industry leaders do exactly that.” 

Along with painting a commission for a client, Napier asks clients to identify a youth organization. She then creates an iMovie capturing portraits and stories about inspiring female role models that youth leaders can use as learning tools. Northcutt’s video focuses on the power of images and role models to change the course of a girl’s life.

“When a girl closes her eyes, to imagine a scientist or inventor or pioneer, I want her to see a female face,” Napier said. “By knowing the faces of the female pioneers and the paths they’ve paved, a girl can better see her potential, and feel an ownership in male-dominated domains like science, technology, engineering and math.”

Napier’s first collection of large-scale contemporary portraits, painted in 2018, featured Nova Scotia women, and was later acquired by The Royal Bank for its national art collection. 

The current project will eventually evolve into an informal, digital “constellation of women,” Napier said.  

“We know inclusion and diversity can drive innovation and profits, but what does inclusion really look like?” she asked. “It looks like girls named Trudy, Marie, Dorothy, Cecilia, Poppy… who became pioneer.”