Entrepreneur Spotlight: Rochelle Johnson


Rochelle Johnson had long dreamed of supporting herself as an artist. What she didn’t know was that achieving that goal could also enable her to help others in her community. 

For several years, Rochelle worked at the Art Students League of Denver so she could take classes and focus on her art, but she had a hard time making ends meet. When she walked into a nonprofit one day seeking help to pay her electricity bill, an employee suggested she reach out to Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute (RMMFI). 

Rochelle enrolled in RMMFI’s Business Launch Boot Camp in 2014, focusing on the skills she needed to support herself as an artist. She wrote a business plan and secured a loan to promote her art. She worked independently to learn about the art world and continued learning through the expert-led workshops RMMFI provides. 

Not long after completing the boot camp, Rochelle had her first major show at an art bistro in central Denver. She curated “Inclusion,” a show featuring 18 underrepresented artists. By late 2018, she had written her third business plan, paid off two RMMFI loans, and secured a third loan with the ongoing support of RMMFI mentors and workshops.

As she built her business, Rochelle’s aspirations grew beyond realizing her own artistic dreams to opening a gallery where she could showcase other artists of color. She opened Rochelle Johnson Studio in Denver as part of the RMMFI Retail Incubator Space in June 2018. Shortly after opening, she curated “Rhapsody,” a four-person exhibit featuring diverse artists. 

Rochelle’s presence in the art scene – and her impact on local artists – continues to expand. In December 2018, she opened “Daughters of the Diaspora” at the Western Colorado Center for Arts in Grand Junction, Colorado. The exhibit featured artists of color exploring themes of race, gender, and humanity through figurative works. A local news station interviewed Rochelle in January 2019 for a series on Denver artists of color in. Rochelle has also started to build a national presence after being featured in the American Art Collector magazine in March 2019.

Rochelle’s art is only one way she seeks to address issues of race and diversity in Denver. In 2018, she was appointed by the Denver City Council to serve on the Denver County Cultural Council. Rochelle currently serves as the Secretary of the Cultural Council, which also includes other local arts leaders making change on the city level. 

Rochelle has proven herself to be an artist, a businessperson, and a champion for artists of color. She is energetic, focused, and determined to make social change. Rochelle credits RMMFI with helping her transform from a struggling artist into a successful businessperson, which, in turn, has allowed her to focus on broadening her horizon and impact.